Wimbledon: Murray prepares for Tsonga on centre court
"That statistic shows how good he is," Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said yesterday when told that Andy Murray, his opponent here this afternoon, had won his last 21 matches against French players.
"It's just because he's better than all the French players. That's it. He has a better ranking and he's just a better player."
Tsonga was the last Frenchman to beat the Scot, having knocked him out en route to his only Grand Slam final at the 2008 Australian Open, and knows the size of his task. "I watched some of his match on Monday and he can play every shot," the world No 10 said. "He serves well, he has a good forehand and backhand, he is good on the baseline and the net. He can do everything."
Murray, in turn, will not underestimate the 25-year-old from Le Mans, an attacking player who loves playing on grass but, as the only man yet to drop a set here this year, Murray will start favourite to reach his second straight Wimbledon semi-final. In his last two matches in particular, the spark that took Murray to the Australian Open final five months ago has returned.
Just as Tsonga is looking forward to his first appearance on Centre Court – "You play for big moments like this," he said – so Murray relishes every chance to play there. They have taken their time, but the Wimbledon public have warmed to Murray with every match and he in turn has fed off their support.
"People make too much of the pressures of playing at Wimbledon," Murray said. "Tim Henman played his best tennis here throughout the years, without question. At the start of the event there are those nerves and that little bit of pressure that you need to get over – you can start a bit slowly in the first match – but once you get through it, you enjoy it. You have the home support and it makes you play a lot better."
He added: "You might be lonely on the court, but it's a good feeling. You have a lot of people there supporting you. It's lonely in a good way. For me, the tennis court is quite a relaxing place to be. That's what I'm comfortable doing. I've been playing tennis since I was a young boy. When you're out on the court it's where you learn to be comfortable.
"There are always nerves, but it's more of an excitement. I'm not scared of the situation. I'm not scared of who I'm playing. You're excited and it's great to be out on a court like that when the support is with you."
Tsonga comes from a sporting family. His father, Didier, who is now a science teacher, was a handball international, while Enzo, Jo-Wilfried's younger brother, plays basketball.
Tsonga may be better known in Britain for the incident that cost Carol Thatcher her job at the BBC last year – the daughter of the former prime minister made a backstage "golliwog" remark about him to the "One Show" presenter Adrian Chiles and a guest, Jo Brand – but his on-court success has made him a big name at home.
Murray remembers how Tsonga caught him cold in Melbourne two years ago, though the Scot believes the defeat helped make him a more consistent performer. "After losing that match, when I was expecting to do well in the tournament, I realised you can't go into events expecting to get to the second week or even the second round because you're a seeded player," Murray said. "You need to be ready right from the start."
How different does Murray think he is compared with the man who lost to Tsonga then? "I'm obviously a better player. I've played in a lot of big matches since then. I've been in the quarters and semis and finals of Slams since then."
Murray thinks he handles mid-match mini-crises much better these days, as he showed when digging his way out of trouble at the end of the first set against Sam Querrey on Monday. "With experience, you learn to deal with situations better; you learn how to manage your own game better, do what you feel comfortable with on the important points. When you're younger you go for a bit too much or make a silly mistake when you're behind. I definitely don't beat myself any more."
Tsonga said he would have to "be aggressive and be a bit lucky" to win today and is looking forward to the occasion. "I like sport like this, when there is a big atmosphere and when the public scream the names of players like Andy and myself," he said. "It's normal that the crowd will cheer for Andy, but I know they will be fair with me."