With Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal residing in the same half of the draw, it seemed Roger Federer had a clear path to the French Open final. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had other ideas, however, as the No. 6-seeded Frenchman decisively upset the No. 2 seed by a score of 7-5, 6-3, 6-3, as SportsCenter noted on Twitter:
Federer breezed through the first few rounds of the tournament, but he fell behind Gilles Simon two sets to one in the fourth round and needed to rally in order to beat the French underdog. The Swiss star dropped the first two sets to Tsonga on Tuesday, but there was no comeback in the cards this time around.
Tsonga broke Federer an impressive six times and committed only 22 unforced errors as opposed to Federer's 34. While Tsonga thoroughly outplayed Federer in almost every aspect, those two statistics certainly seem to tell the story of the match.
Not surprisingly, Federer was extremely disappointed with his play, as he never seemed to find a rhythm. Federer conceded that he didn't play his best against Tsonga, according to Roland Garros on Twitter.
At the same time, Federer didn't take anything away from Tsonga's performance, as he gave the Frenchman credit for his landmark victory, according to Roland Garros.
While Roland Garros is considered Tsonga's home court, the French Open had actually been his weakest Grand Slam tournament. He had only reached the French Open quarterfinals once before this year's tournament, whereas he has two Wimbledon semifinals and one Australian Open final to his credit.
Tsonga fed off the partisan Roland Garros crowd throughout his match against Federer, and while the fans did show some support for the 2009 French Open champion at certain points, there is no doubt that they were largely pulling for Tsonga to break through.
With this loss, there will inevitably be questions about the 31-year-old Federer's future prospects as a top player. While most still consider him to be part of the "Big Four" with Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray, the rest of the field appears to be catching up with Fed.
Younger players like Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro, Kei Nishikori and others are starting to make big strides, while Federer is on the decline.
Conventional wisdom states that the rising stars of men's tennis will eventually catch up with Federer if they haven't already. The Federer of old would never have squandered such an advantageous draw, but he failed to seize his opportunity at Roland Garros.
It's entirely possible that Federer will never again receive such a great draw. He could have potentially gone through the entire tournament needing only to beat either Djokovic or Nadal as top competitors. In future tournaments, he will almost certainly have to beat at least two of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray to win the title, so things are only going to get tougher.
As for Tsonga, he realized that he had the same opportunity as Federer, and he seized it. With the Big Four dominating play over the past few years, it has been nearly impossible for outsiders to make headway. Tsonga has been on the verge of taking the next step for quite some time, but now he has a real chance to do it.
Tsonga will meet Spain's David Ferrer in the semifinals with the winner likely taking on either Nadal or Djokovic in the final. Beating Ferrer won't be easy, as he is the No. 5 player in the world, thrives on clay and has breezed through the French Open thus far, but Tsonga obviously stands a much better chance of beating Ferrer than Nadal or Djokovic.
If Tsonga does manage to reach the final, it can't be said that he took the easy way out. Even if Federer isn't the player he once was, beating him in a Grand Slam is an absolutely enormous accomplishment. This is something that Tsonga can hang his hat on for a long time to come, but he also realizes that there is still work to do.
One thing that Tsonga's victory over Federer assures is that the 2013 French Open will be the first Grand Slam with a final involving someone outside the Big Four since Tomas Berdych lost to Nadal in the 2010 Wimbledon final. Tsonga has a chance to set an even more impressive mark if he somehow manages to win it all at Roland Garros.
No player outside the Big Four has won a Grand Slam since del Potro upset Federer in the 2009 U.S. Open final, and you have to go all the way back to Marat Safin winning the 2005 Australian Open to find the second-to-last occurrence of a non-Big Four Grand Slam winner.
Even if Tsonga stalls in the semis and loses to Ferrer, this has been a very fruitful tournament for him. He now knows that he can beat one of the all-time greats on the big stage, and he is one step closer to perhaps infringing upon the exclusive Big Four.
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