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Tennis | Roland Garros

Long wait goes on for French tennis



For long-suffering French tennis fans, the agonising wait for a male champion at the French Open goes on, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the latest to succumb to the Roland Garros jinx.

The 28-year old from the car-race town of Le Mans had motored smoothly into the last four without dropping a set and hopes were sent sky-high that at last Yannick Noah's iconic win in Paris 30 years ago would be matched.

But on a sultry June evening with the shadows lengthening on the Philippe Chatrier centre court, Tsonga went the way of so many of his compatriots before him, unable to produce the goods when it mattered at the temple of claycourt tennis.

Tsonga had looked every bit a winner after his straight sets demolition of Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and his matchup with David Ferrer had been hotly anticipated throughout France, leading TV news bulletins and fronting the widely-read L'Equipe newspaper.

But to start with, scheduling got in the way as the Tsonga-Ferrer match was placed second up after the other semifinal bout between defending champion Rafael Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic.

That turned out to be a five-set epic, won by Nadal, lasting 4 hours and 37 minutes which left the centre court faithful needing to take a breather before turning their attentions to the second of the last four games.

When Tsonga and Ferrer marched out to do battle, the court was half-empty and there was little electricity left in the air. Tsonga could not help but notice.

"It was a bit strange, you see, because there were half of the seats that were empty. This was a bit weird," he said.

However, Tsonga insisted that after such a classic match between the two top seeds, it was normal that there was some down-time.

What surprised him more was the play of 31-year-old Ferrer - a player who had failed to reach a Grand Slam final in 41 previous attempts and who only had his never-say-die attitude and superb fitness to put up against the big serves and thumping groundstrokes of his opponent.

"What surprised me was that he was even faster than usual," said Tsonga.

"Sometimes I thought he would be put off balance. Whenever I was hitting good points he was a good defender and could play as well as a defender.

"He was not just hitting back. He would destabilise me, putting me off my position. So each time I wanted to use my serve machine, he returned so well. Sometimes I served at 210 (kilometres an hour), but he returned really strongly."

The desire to do well with so much expectations placed on his shoulders, he insisted was not a factor in his defeat.

"Frankly, I was feeling good. I was feeling really good and I was not stressed. I was not too stressed.

"Well, of course, there's a little stress, but I must say I had more stress during the first round than today.

"Now I'm disappointed because I didn't enjoy this match as much as I wanted because this was a semifinal."

It will come as little consolation to the French public that they are not alone in enduring a long wait to celebrate a home winner of their Grand Slam event.

The last British winner of Wimbledon was Fred Perry way back in 1936, the last Australian to win on home soil was Mark Edmondson in 1976 and the last American winner in New York was Andy Roddick in 2003.

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