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'Time for tea' says Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
by Mark Hodgkinson
Friday 8 June 2012

"Now it's time for a cup of tea." And with that short sentence Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, already hugely popular at Wimbledon, endeared himself even further to the British tennis public. That was the Frenchman's response after he was asked by the BBC - after coming so close in his quarter-final against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros - whether he had a message for his supporters on the other side of the Channel. This was not him trying to build his fanbase. He is not that calculating. It was just a funny line that would have played well in the shires, and on Henman Hill.

There are few more likeable characters in tennis than Tsonga - when he's not slam-dunking, smoking winners, or hitting diving volleys at the All England Club this summer, he will be smiling. "Some people don't have food on their table, and I'm playing tennis, maybe that's why I smile a lot," Tsonga has said. Tsonga is popular in Britain because he always seems to be having fun on the court. He grins, laughs, and plays with more freedom than most. Plus, he is always willing to throw himself around the turf.

Ever since a teenage Boris Becker first played at Wimbledon, the crowds at the All England Club have always shown their appreciation for anyone who dives on Centre Court, for those unwilling to let a passing shot rip past them. Andy Murray once looked over the net at the diving Tsonga, during a match on grass, and wondered whether his opponent was playing a different sport.

Tsonga is not coming to Wimbledon to talk about Earl Grey, to smile, to play some fun shots and to have a cameo role in The Championships; he has an outside chance of winning a first grand slam title. If Tsonga was causing great difficulties for the top four in Paris on a surface that doesn't suit his game - four times he was a point away from beating Djokovic - he is going to be a greater threat on grass.

Everyone at the All England Club was reminded of his ability on the lawns last summer when he came from two sets down in his quarter-final with Roger Federer. Though Tsonga could not close out his match with Djokovic in Paris, that was not through any fault of his own - Serbia's world number one survived by going for his shots."That was the best match that I've ever seen Tsonga play on clay, or maybe on any surface," said John McEnroe.

So if Tsonga can play as well in London as he did in Paris, he may well reach the semi-finals or beyond. It was at the 2008 Australian Open that Tsonga first announced his talent to the wider tennis world, when he annihilated Rafael Nadal for the loss of just seven games in the semi-finals.

While Tsonga, who finished as the runner-up to Djokovic at Melbourne Park, is yet to play in another grand slam final, many consider that he has the talent to possibly win a major. Tsonga has both the force of shot and of personality to make more impact on tennis.

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