Tsonga's slick progress lets home crowd dare to dream
It is 32 years since the French Open produced a home-grown men's champion, but the host nation continues to produce a conveyor belt of international talent.
Five Frenchmen made the last 16 of this year's tournament, which matches the country's best performance in the Open era, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brought further cheer to the Paris public here yesterday when he became the first home player to reach the quarter-finals.
Tsonga did it in style, beating Tomas Berdych, who has been one of this year's most consistent performers, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.
Berdych had won five of his six previous matches against the 30-year-old Frenchman, including a meeting on clay in Madrid last month, but was outplayed from the start.
The match would have finished earlier had Tsonga not failed to serve out for the third set when he led 5-4. Berdych, the world No 4, went on to win the tie-break 7-5 and threatened to take control of the fourth set after making an early break, but Tsonga responded in impressive style.
Having broken to lead 5-3 with a crunching forehand winner, the world No 15 served out to love to complete his win, which he celebrated with a dance of joy. It was Tsonga's 88th victory at a Grand Slam tournament, a figure bettered by only two of his fellow countrymen, Jean Borotra and Henri Cochet.
In the quarter-finals Tsonga will face Kei Nishikori, who reached the last eight here for the first time with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Russia's Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Another Frenchman, Gilles Simon, had his run ended by Stan Wawrinka, who won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to equal his best performance here. Simon, meanwhile, has never reached the quarter-finals at his home Grand Slam event. Wawrinka's quarter-final opponent will be the winner of the fourth-round encounter between Roger Federer and Gaël Monfils, which will resume today.
On a cold and damp day when two hours and 40 minutes was lost to rain, play was halted at 8.32pm because of the fading light with the score at one set apiece. Federer took the opening set 6-3 before Monfils won the second 6-4.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray believes home advantage can be as beneficial in tennis as in any other sport but the world No 3 relishes the challenge of facing opponents in their own backyard. Murray has an excellent record as an 'away' player, which he will hope to extend when he faces Jérémy Chardy in the fourth round today.
Since Murray lost to Monfils in the first round at Roland Garros nine years ago he has won all 11 matches he has contested against players competing in their home Grand Slam tournament.
He has become a master at dampening the enthusiasm of a home crowd, as he showed in his quarter-final victory at this year's Australian Open over Nick Kyrgios, who lost again to the Scot here on Saturday, going down 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
"One of the things that I try to do before going on for those sort of matches is to prepare myself," Murray said. "I tell myself: 'OK the crowd is going to be tough.' I just get myself in the right frame of mind before I go out there. I don't know if all players do that or talk about that with their coach, but that's something I always try to do."
Murray also tries to use partisan home crowds to his own advantage. "I try and tell myself that when they're booing me they're booing him," Murray said. "I think in football the crowd obviously get pumped when the home team is attacking, whereas in tennis it's kind of no noise in the middle of the rallies, so it shouldn't put you off."
He added: "I don't mind playing in those kinds of atmospheres. Obviously, I prefer it when the crowd is behind you, but it's something you have to enjoy. It's a challenge and when you accept it's going to be the case before a match you deal with it.
"I think it's something that when I was younger it would have affected me, but now I feel like I'm experienced. I've won 11 in a row. I've experienced those atmospheres many times now, so it's not something that fazes me when I go out on court. I just go out and try to play."
Murray also has an exceptional record against French opponents, having won 22 matches in succession in Grand Slam tournaments against them since his last defeat, to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Melbourne seven years ago.
"I think that's a coincidence," Murray said. "Some of the guys I've played against, their styles have matched up well for me."
Murray has won six of the seven matches he has played against Chardy. The most recent was last month in Rome, where Murray pulled out of the tournament the following day, blaming tiredness.
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