Tsonga brings guillotine down on fading Federer
Is the French Open about to see a French revolution? They say sport is cyclical, and 30 years after Yannick Noah became Roland Garros' only home-grown champion of the modern era, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has made his way through to the semi-finals without dropping a set.
Tsonga brought the guillotine down yesterday on Roger Federer, that giant of the ancien regime, who has rarely been so outclassed at a grand slam event.
From the eighth game, when he gave up the first of six breaks of serve, Federer's racket committed a stream of unforced errors that even the blustery conditions could not explain away.
"I struggled a little bit everywhere," said Federer. "This is obviously a crushing loss and I am disappointed about it. But I have no choice but to move on."
Tsonga's 7-5 6-4 6-3 win came up in just one hour, 51 minutes, making this Federer's second-heaviest defeat at any major since he began his gilded run 10 years ago. The heaviest was the 2008 final here, when Rafael Nadal gave up just four games.
Tsonga has always had power and creativity; what he has added this year is discipline, under the rigorous training programme of his new coach Roger Rasheed. So while we saw all the trademarks yesterday – the thunderous serves and forehands, the tank-like rumbles to the net – we did not see him give up his usual quota of cheap points.
"After a while I realised it was tough staying alone because there are many things you have to manage as a tennis player," said Tsonga, who spent 18 months without a coach before teaming up with Rasheed in November. "You have to be on time for practising every day. You have to eat correctly. You have to sleep well. You need the life of a champion."
Asked whether he had given up chocolate as part of the new approach, Tsonga (right) grinned. "It's the same as when you go on a diet. You can't live without any pleasure at all. So maybe tonight I'll indulge myself in having some bubbles in my water."
It is a law of modern tennis that whenever Federer loses at a big tournament, obituaries are written. Admittedly, he will go into Wimbledon, which begins on June 24, as defending champion, and very possibly as the No 2 seed. But this has not been a vintage season – he has only a runners-up finish in Rome to show for the first half of 2013.
There is no halting the passing of time, and you have to wonder about the state of his rickety back. While he denied there was any problem yesterday, he did admit that he had taken to wearing an undershirt to "keep the wind away".
His serve was not at its sharpest and his three botched overheads were collector's items, for he normally has the most reliable smash in tennis.
This will be the first grand slam final to feature a finalist from outside the top four since Wimbledon 2010, when Tomas Berdych lost to Nadal. And that man will be either Tsonga or David Ferrer, who had an easy ride yesterday in a 6-2 6-1 6-1 victory over Tommy Robredo.
Tsonga was heavily criticised last year for telling an interviewer, just two weeks before the French Open, that "there's no chance that a Frenchman will win Roland Garros". It was hardly the most upbeat of comments. But he has worked furiously this year to lose a couple of pounds and to tighten up his formerly wayward backhand. All that effort has clearly brightened his outlook as well.
If Tsonga keeps the winning streak going, he will meet Noah, a close friend, on finals day here. For it is Noah, ominously enough, who has been booked to present the trophy (© Daily Telegraph, London)