It seems Jo-Wilfried Tsonga likes to smile. When the No.5 seed strolled out on No.1 Court to do battle with Slovak Lukas Lacko this afternoon he was sporting a grin. Precisely one hour and 36 minutes later that expression had burst into uncontrollable beaming following his 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory.
And who can blame the big-hitter for his sunny demeanour? The chap – who last year reached the semi-finals here after fighting back from two sets to love down against Roger Federer in the quarter-finals – produced a solid performance to set up a fourth round clash with No.10 seed Mardy Fish and a potential meeting with Andy Murray should the seedings pan out in the now Nadal-absent bottom half of the draw.
But after the contest Jo-Wilfried Tsonga revealed he was not as comfortable as his relaxed body language suggested and admitted that he failed to hit one shot properly in the centre of his racket. “Today was windy, the conditions were difficult, I didn’t play good tennis but I’m happy to go through. I’m already excited to play my round of 16,” he said.
There was a sense he was perhaps being a tad harsh on himself. At the beginning of the encounter Lacko was matching the 6ft 2 Frenchman in both power and consistency. Both held their serves convincingly and both were the architects of beautiful baseline winners but it wasn’t until the seventh game that the first sniff of an opportunity emerged for Tsonga on Lacko’s service game. The Frenchman executed a breathtaking lob which sailed over the 24-year-old’s head and landed well inside the baseline enabling him to sneak ahead in the game. Lacko double faulted and when he hit a backhand long the game was Tsonga’s.
The set looked within easy grasp when the 27-year-old carved out three set points on his service game but he was forced to fight his way out of trouble when he produced a double fault and proceeded to net two balls on the trot thereafter. It was a minor wobble however. The Frenchman pulled out the big serves when it mattered - one of those 129mph - and closed out the first set on an ace.
Tsonga varied the pace and choice of shot in the following two sets delivering punishing overheads, backhands laden with heavy topsin, blistering forehands, and aces, but it was the slower slice groundstrokes that really caused Lacko concern. Time and time again he ditched balls in the net and this ultimately proved to be his undoing on the final point of the match.
The Frenchman celebrated with his trademark victory dance - a combination of spinning, hopping and punching the air. “This is something I did when I started the tour, when I entered the top 100,” he said. “I started at Queen’s. That’s it. I did it. The crowd did a standing ovation for me so I said okay if it works here it will work everywhere. Now it’s my brand and I like to do it,” he added, the glee written all over his face.