By Sharada Iyer – Tennis With An Accent
In what turned out to be the last match of his career, against Casper Ruud in the first round of the French Open, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came out to play as he had always done in his career: with nothing to lose and all to give. This time, with the Frenchman playing in his last event – at home – the latter part hit harder than ever before.
Watching him joust against Ruud, who was not only the higher-ranked opponent but also, as a result, the overwhelming favourite to come through, brought back memories of the times when a healthier Tsonga forced his rivals to outplay him if they wanted a win.
These rivals dotted the rankings’ spectrum and included the fabled “Big Three”: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, whom many others found to be unbreachable walls but whose vulnerabilities Tsonga was always able to exploit in his wins over them. Some of these results – especially his wins against Nadal in the 2008 Australian Open semifinal, and a comeback from two-sets-to-love down against Federer at 2011 Wimbledon – added heft to the 37-year-old’s career graph. Along the way, as he kept adding names and numbers to his pile of results, Tsonga cemented himself as a player who didn’t let his oft-breaking body define his fallibility.
The fact that Tsonga made his presence felt in the twilight years of his career the same way he did when he first made a mark on the tour, and simultaneously kept himself motivated to go for more, can be considered his most valuable contribution to the sport beyond the numbers he stacked up.
That last statement could be considered off-putting when an athlete’s personality overshadows his tally of wins, defeats, and trophies. Yet, given that numbers are ephemeral and are pushed down swiftly in the vortex to usher in changes into its composition, it wouldn’t do justice to Tsonga’s career. Moreover, in terms of remembering athletes of Tsonga’s calibre, giving them recognition solely on the basis of numbers would not only be a one-dimensional way of evaluating them, but would also not enrich nostalgia the way it ought to.
It is now time to rewatch Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s matches and give into the nostalgia his talent evoked at its peak. This is how he made France dream again of having a champion for itself. It is how he then made his way about, carving dreams into reality with his racquet swishing like none other.