Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his first career match at Roland Garros, and it sure did not come easy. Countryman and good friend Julien Benneteau gave the Boxer all he wanted in a first-round skirmish.
The line score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 would seem to indicate a blip on Tsonga's radar in the second set, but it was not so. Benneteau played an inspired match that had all kinds of drama for the delighted crowd of Court Philippe Chatrier.
In the third all-French match of the tournament, this one was certainly the best.
The first set was rank with slapdash play on both ends of the court, especially from Tsonga. There was absolutely no flow to the action whatsoever and the unforced errors and breaks vastly outweighed the winners and service holds.
Tsonga's backhand was abysmal at best, and Benneteau could never seem to find a way to take advantage of it. The only play that seemed to work for the veteran, getting to the net, he shied away from far too often.
The No. 9 player, playing in his first French Open since the Stone Age, labored through and finally held serve to take the first set.
Then, Benneteau decided to literally rip the chapter titled "Opportunistic Net Play" out of Tim Henman's Encyclopedia of Tennis.
After getting a fierce lecture in his mind from William Renshaw, the French veteran had one goal in mind. Get to the net. Make a nice volley. Win a lot of points. Well that's three goals to be procedural, but figuring out Benneteau is not nearly as hard as aerospace engineering.
Tsonga had no answers for Benneteau's radically changed play, but he still managed to scrap and win a couple games. His serve was a factor, but he was not winning free points as he so often does with that 88mm Siege Gun.
A bloodied, yet determined Benneteau, decked out in Wimbledon whites, stood at one end. A disgusted, racquet-tossing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was at the other. Both had a set shoved down their back pocket.
Tsonga didn't necessarily need to pray, like Juan Martin Del Potro so commonly does. He just needed his mojo back.
As the female portion of the amphitheater whistled and cheered for Benneteau as he changed his shirt, Tsonga sat on his bench having an intense conversation with none other than himself. And it seemed to work.
Smokin' Jo Willy was back.
It looked as if he'd just received an emergency transfusion of adrenaline because he was immediately fired up for no apparent reason. His winners and points won off his first serve went through the roof.
The will of Tsonga was a huge factor, as he just found ways to break Benneteau's serve at the most crucial of times. And after he took the third set in moderately convincing style, the fourth set wasn't much of a problem.
The Boxer got his early break, then switched over to autopilot to close out the match.
Now, Tsonga has won some big matches in his career, probably none more so than getting to the Australian Open final in 2008. He would rank this first-round victory over his countryman at Roland Garros right up there.
"It is important for me, yes. It's my first victory here at the French Open. I played Julien, last time I played him, he played better than I did." said Tsonga, when talking about the importance of his win.
His game on clay has also improved significantly over the past few years, but Tsonga still believes he is underrated. The Frenchman was also playing with a new racquet.
All in all, a very typical Boxer's day at the office. Lots of unforced errors, lots of winners, and a fair number of aces. But he capped it all off by showing up to the press conference in a warm-up jacket and a loose tie.
"In other sports when you come to a press conference, you have to respect, to comply with a dress code, so I thought that in tennis, too, we could show some ethics. And also, this is my first victory here. I celebrate victory like this!"
Adidas wasn't a fan of him wearing a full tuxedo, however. Maybe next time.
Up next for the No. 9 Tsonga will be Argentine Juan Monaco, who obliterated Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets.
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