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Men's semi-final preview: Discovering Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrates after defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber and advancing to the semi-finals.
by Kate Battersby
Friday 6 July 2012

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's athleticism and ready smile mean that not everyone on Centre Court will be cheering for Andy Murray. But will the Frenchman get the chance to exhibit his trademark celebration one more time?

Background: His father Didier is originally from the Congo and came to France to play handball – he was named central Africa’s best player in 1974. In France Didier met his wife Evelyne, and they settled in Le Mans.

Family: Jo-Wilfried has a brother, Enzo, who played basketball for Le Mans before retiring with a back injury. But contrary to oft-repeated legend, the Aston Villa footballer Charles N’Zogbia is not Tsonga’s cousin.

Boxing: Tsonga’s nickname is Ali, because of his resemblance to the boxing legend. In 1974 Tsonga’s father Didier was at possibly the most famous fight of all time, the Rumble In The Jungle between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. It took place in Kinshasa, in what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At that time Didier Tsonga lived in Brazzaville, the capital of Congo, which lies on the other side of the river from Kinshasa, half-an-hour’s boat ride away. “My dad wasn’t a huge boxing fan but it was a big event. I like to watch boxing. I’m not a huge fan, I don’t know everything about it, but I like the spirit of the sport. I like the way that, at the end, you can see both opponents hug after the fight.”

The dance of the thumbs: Every time he wins, Tsonga shakes hands with his opponent and the umpire, then skips back onto the court, dancing round in circles pumping his fists above his head – with his thumbs pointing down behind his back. It is an imitation of the celebration by some footballers after scoring a goal, pointing to the name on the back of their shirts... except Tsonga does not wear his name on the back of his shirt. This signature celebration, unique in tennis to Tsonga, is known as “the dance of the thumbs”.

Posing naked for Cosmopolitan magazine: Tsonga was photographed naked for Cosmopolitan magazine last year, pictured standing on some rocks by the sea in Monaco. The image was in support of the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign, funding research into prostate and testicular cancer. Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo have also been photographed naked in support of the same charity.

Self-image: “My favourite part of my body is my buttocks,” says Tsonga. “But I don’t like my feet.”

Facebook: He reached 300,000 followers on his Facebook page on Wednesday, after his quarter-final victory over Philipp Kohlschreiber. Tsonga posted a
special “thank you” picture to mark the occasion, where he was shown making a heart shape with his hands.

Favourite player: His all-time favourite player is Morocco’s Younes El-Aynaoui, whose highest ranking was 14 in 2003. “Younes didn't have no backhand," Tsonga says, "so all the time he hit the forehand and he'd run to the net and smash and he's 'Arrghgh!' It's entertainment. When I watch
some of Bjorn Borg’s matches, I want just to take a nap, no?”

Tennis stuff: Tsonga was the first player since Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open in 1997 whose first ATP final was also a Grand Slam final – the
2008 Australian Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.

Women's prize money: Tsonga agrees with his compatriot Gilles Simon that women players should not receive equal prize money. “Everything he [Simon] said is right. He’s only saying what’s true, but it’s taboo to talk about that. It’s something people don’t want to talk about. Women and men
getting the same money is a sensitive topic. There is no other sport like ours. We are very gentlemanly attitude towards the women on that matter. So there’s no need to criticise Gilles for just saying the truth.”


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