Ruthless Jo-Wilfried Tsonga moving closer to French dream
Frenchman's straight-forward victory over Federer raises hopes of first home title victory at Roland Garros since Noah's epic win 30 years ago
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's surprisingly straightforward 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 quarter-final victory over Roger Federer at the French Open could be seen through two different lenses.
It could be seen through the lens of a Federer analyst, who now has more confirmation than ever of a great and classy champion's gradual fade from grand-slam power.
There were hints aplenty under pressure in the brilliant Paris sunshine, such as shots off the frame; leaps that did not appear to leave as much space between the red clay and Federer's shoes as usual; missed opportunities off short balls; and even missed overheads.
"Missing smashes goes hand in hand with missing so many other things," said Federer, the second seed, sounding more melancholy than devastated.
But there was also the much more rose-coloured lens available to Tsonga observers, of which there will now be millions more than usual in France after this performance.
Tsonga, 28, who professes to prefer the quiet life of the Swiss countryside to the Parisian party scene, does not yet have a grand slam title. But he undeniably has charisma, just like France's most recent men's singles champion at Roland Garros: Yannick Noah, who won in 1983 and remains one of France's most popular men 30 years later.
It still seems early to start talking about history repeating itself. But the sixth-seeded Tsonga does have an opening in his half, with a semi-final tomorrow against David Ferrer, of Spain, rather than a bona fide stars.
Ferrer, 31, unlike Tsonga, has never reached a major final. But the bad news for those boarding the French bandwagon is that the fourth-seeded Ferrer, like Tsonga, has yet to drop a set in Paris this year and was in relentless, energy-conserving form again as he overwhelmed his compatriot Tommy Robredo, 6-2, 6-1, 6-1, in 1 hour, 26 minutes.
"I wasn't 100 per cent ready to fight that match and playing with a guy like David who is a machine, it's very tough to be like that," said Robredo, who had reached the quarter-finals by coming back three times in a row from two sets down to win.
For now, France and Tsonga will have to settle for his victory over Federer, who had beaten him in nine of their 12 previous matches, most recently at this year's Australian Open in a five-set crowd pleaser that seemed to predict a closer match,
Federer struck first, breaking Tsonga in the fifth game, and was soon up by 4-2. However, he could not hold a 40-15 lead in his next service game and Tsonga never trailed again, dominating with his first serve and punching holes with surprising ease in Federer's defences.
Tsonga's weaknesses have long been clear: returns and a backhand that has lacked the pop of his world-class serve and forehand. But he did damage with it regularly, perhaps the result of changes made under new coach Roger Rasheed.
Tsonga spent more than a season without an official coach trying to understand his game and motivations before hiring Rasheed this year.
Rasheed, an Australian, was previously coach of Lleyton Hewitt and Tsonga's compatriot Gael Monfils.
"I choose to take Roger, because I knew this guy was able to give me the passion for the game and to give me his passion for the game," Tsonga said.
Federer rebuffed any suggestion that he was suffering from a revival of the back problems that have affected him intermittently.
"They have so much more energy here, the French guys, than maybe elsewhere," Federer said of Tsonga.
"I thought he played great today. He was in all areas better than me today. That's why the result was pretty clean."
Federer, a 17-time grand slam singles champion, will now defend his Wimbledon title. Grass courts have lifted him out of the doldrums in the past, but this season has been particularly disappointing by his standards.
Tsonga has spoiled major moments for Federer in the quarter-finals before.
At Wimbledon in 2011, he became the first man to overcome a two-set deficit and beat Federer in a grand slam tournament.