Unseeded Tsonga blows away Nadal to reach Australian Open final


Last updated at 21:22 24 January 2008

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rejoices in the nickname 'Ali', so-called because he looks like a youthful version of the greatest boxer the world has seen.

The soubriquet has always owed itself purely to a facial resemblance, but now it looks like the 22-year-old Frenchman might just share with him a touch of genius as well.

Scroll down to read more:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

That is hardly too strong a word to apply to his staggering demolition of Rafael Nadal that completed a journey from near obscurity all the way into Sunday's Australian Open final.

Tsonga's 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over the world No 2 was of such brilliance that it will surely have caused a sharp intake of breath even for his prospective opponent, either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, who will play the other semi-final on Friday.

It was once sung of Ali that he could 'float like a butterfly, sting like a bee'. By the time he had finished with a stunned Nadal - given his worst equal Grand Slam beating ever - it looked like he had been attacked by a whole swarm.

Tsonga, who moves beautifully around a tennis court for a big man, was irresistible, and every time you thought there was no way he could keep it up he would come back with another flurry of blows.

Andy Murray felt a similar sensation in the first set and a half against the same man in a first round defeat last week that has subsequently been lent perspective.


Tsonga showed his enormous potential for significant spells against the British number one, but yesterday he fulfilled and sustained it from first to last, leaving the Australian crowd totally awestruck.

So where has he been, this son of a French mother and Congolese father who is a cousin of Newcastle United winger Charles N'zgobia?

Tsonga was an outstanding junior who went on to have a frustrating two years with repetitive injuries, mainly connected to his back, which kept him out for five straight months in 2005.

Only last year could he properly be unleashed and he swiftly climbed from 212 in the rankings to number 43, reaching Wimbledon's fourth round along the way.

His progress has accelerated since the U.S Open where, having finished Tim Henman's Grand Slam career, he was easily polished off in straight sets by Nadal on a similar court to the one employed at Melbourne Park.

For the last twenty years France has produced legions of accomplished men's tennis players but they have been frustrated by the failure to unearth someone with the charisma and special talent to succeed Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte.

It looks like they may have found him now, although it must be said that the Australian Open has a recent history of throwing up surprise finalists.

But none of them have shown the kind of quality to utterly dumbfound someone of Nadal's hardened qualities like Tsonga, who came into this event ranked 38 in the world.

Rafael Nadal

"I was in my rhythm, I was playing fine but I don't have a chance in this match," said the Spaniard. "I tried to play a little slower, I tried to play faster, I tried to play more inside the court, more behind the baseline, but no chance. He played unbelievable.

"Federer is Federer. He can play at this level, but better than tonight is really difficult."

Nadal did, though, strike a note of caution about Tsonga's chances in what will be not just his first Grand Slam final, but his first final ever on the main tour.

"I think he is going to feel the pressure in his first Grand Slam final. If he plays like today then he is going to have his chances against either, but the truth is that I don't think that is his real level, he can't play like this every time."

Certainly there was not a single hole in his gloriously instinctive game for the Spaniard to exploit. The Tsonga backhand, sometimes unreliable, never missed and he pounded forehands into the corners. Aces rained down at 137 mph and his backhand volleys at the net were astonishingly deft.

An easygoing and popular figure among his peers who is not afraid to interact with the crowd, the man from Le Mans was struggling to explain it all himself.

"It's ridiculous for sure because this is the first time I have played at this level and it's in the semi-final of the Australian Open," said Tsonga, who has never played a five-set match.

"I knew that I could play unbelievably well but before now my body was not ready for it. Maybe it is the practice I did this winter, I have not trained like that before.

"Maybe I will lose the final, maybe I will win. We are both on the same court, so someone is going to be a winner."

Where on earth has he sprung from?

Tsonga entered the world rankings

for the first time at the end of 2001

at No 898 — a year later he'd

climbed nearly 400 places.

Tsonga's progress was

hampered by a series of injuries

and after reaching a world

ranking of 157 in 2004 he slipped

back the following year to 345.

This cousin of Newcastle United

winger Charles N'Zogbia had a

successful junior career, winning

the U.S. Open Juniors title in 2003

and also reaching the semi-finals

at the other three Grand Slams.

His big breakthrough came last

year when he won Challenger

titles in Tallahassee, Mexico City,

Lanzarote and Surbiton. He

qualified for the Queen's Club

event at the same time as

playing at Surbiton and

managed five

victories in two


No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now