Belfast Telegraph

Wimbledon: Tsonga draws on champions' help to set up Murray showdown

By Paul Newman

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has secured a place in the semi-finals against Andy Murray here tomorrow, has been without a coach for the last 15 months, but the 27-year-old Frenchman can call upon a wealth of experience when he needs some advice.

Tsonga, who beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 yesterday to earn a place in the last four for the second year in succession, is in regular contact with Yannick Noah, the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title, as well as a number of other major figures in the game.

"I've got two or three champions in my corner," Tsonga told L'Equipe, France's national daily sports newspaper, recently. "Last summer I met Andre Agassi and I have a super relationship with him. In January, during the Australian Open, I talked to Pat Rafter a lot. Guy Forget was my Davis Cup captain for a long time.

"And then there's Yannick, who is always ready to give advice and a helping hand. When things get on top of me or I need impartial advice, I call him. Yannick isn't someone who can be influenced by other people. He doesn't have any vested interests. He looks at things from an objective point of view and I like that."

The world No 6 said that Noah advised him about broader issues rather than technical points. The 1983 French Open champion told him: "I left the game a long time ago. You guys don't play like we did."

Tsonga added: "When I call him it's like I'm calling my big brother. When he talks it's as if he knows everything about my life. He has been through everything that I'm going through now. He's already been there. He has the words to talk to me about it. That's a real plus. He was French No 1. He played in the Davis Cup. He won Roland Garros. I've got so much that I can learn from him."

Tsonga parted company with Eric Winogradsky, his long-time coach, in April last year. The Frenchman was world No 17 at the time of the split but has climbed up the rankings after an excellent past 12 months. He has won titles in Metz, Vienna and Doha and finished runner-up at Queen's Club, the Paris Masters and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Kohlschreiber, the world No 30, had taken advantage of Rafael Nadal's early exit to come through his section of the draw and pushed Tsonga hard in their quarter-final yesterday. Tsonga needed tie-breaks to win the first and third sets but won the fourth more comfortably and did a dance of joy after breaking the German to secure victory after two hours and 48 minutes.

Murray, who he faces in the semi-finals, has won five of his six meetings with Tsonga, including the last four in succession and two on grass. The Scot won their Wimbledon quarter-final in four sets two years ago and beat the Frenchman last year in the final of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club.

Nevertheless, Tsonga is a fine grass-court player. He knocked out Roger Federer in the quarter-finals here last year, when he became the first player ever to beat the Swiss in a Grand Slam tournament from two sets down, before losing to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Now 27, Tsonga believes that his best years may yet be ahead of him, particularly as he made a comparatively late start to his career after being troubled by a serious back injury in his early days. "Many players play their best tennis late in their career," Tsonga said. "Apparently French players get better after 27 years old! It encourages me, of course."

Belfast Telegraph


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