By Erik Gudris/Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is back in the hunt for the ATP World Tour Finals after a stellar showing in Shanghai.
Tennis Now's Erik Gudris asks what's next for the popular Frenchman.
Photo Credit: AP
After being out of tennis for most of this summer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is making up for lost time. And both he and the game have missed each other according to the charismatic Frenchman.
Tsonga, whose athletic game continues to make him fans all over the world, remains one of the ATP's most popular and sometimes perplexing players both on and off the court. This includes yet another recent coaching change that have some wondering if Tsonga will ever find the right fit for his big game and even bigger personality.
After a semifinal run at Roland Garros, Tsonga was slowed down by a knee injury at Wimbledon a few weeks later. That injury forced Tsonga to miss the summer hard court season, including the US Open.
Tsonga said that he missed the game during his recovery period and felt it missed him too.
"It was not that hard at the beginning because I was in holidays," Tsonga said in Shanghai about taking time off to heal. "But, of course, after few days, few weeks, the game miss (sic) me. I missed the game, and it was tough to see my friends play. I was home watching on TV. But anyway, you know, sometime it's good because it make your mind clear, so after that you come back sometimes stronger. That's what I will try to do."
That time away from the sport made Tsonga eager to get back into the thick of competition. He got right back on track by reaching the finals of Metz in September. In fact, he just missed out on winning the title a third year in a row when he lost to fellow Davis Cup teammate Gilles Simon in the finals.
Tsonga lost early in Tokyo but then mounted a surprise run to the semifinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters. Despite losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic, Tsonga's week in Shanghai not only boosted him to No. 8 in the world, but put him back in the running for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Currently in ninth place in the race, Tsonga trails Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer by less than 160 points for the eight-man season ending finale.
Prior to his return to action, Tsonga raised some eyebrows by ending his coaching relationship with Australian Roger Rasheed who worked with him for less than a year. The partnership with Rasheed, thought by some to be a perfect combination, ended up being a non-starter. In a statement announcing the break in September, Tsonga cited "the language barrier and the difficulties linked to our geographic locations" as the main reason for the split.
While in Shanghai, Tsonga's discussion on his decision to part ways with Rasheed intimated that perhaps there was more to it than what his official response said. "You know, I don't want to explain myself about it because we have our own reason, and we will keep it for us," Tsonga explained. "But, anyway, for me it was a good experience to work with him. I learned a lot. He make me to be a better player anyway, and that's it. And now I'm looking for a new structure around me, and I will tell you when it's going to be fixed."
That leaves the newly solo Tsonga with a challenging though not impossible proposition for the rest of the season. Despite admitting that his knee is not 100% healed, Tsonga continues to keep playing in hopes of qualifying for London. Tsonga is the top seed this week at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. He's next scheduled for the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris - an event he won in 2008 that also clinched his berth into the ATP Tour Finals that year.
Tsonga's all-court game is well-suited for indoors. With six of his 10 career titles having been won under the lights, Tsonga might just be poised for yet another climatic late-season charge. And if Tsonga's break from the game has left him mentally refreshed, he certainly is capable of challenging anyone in the final stages of this season.
Despite his boyish smile, 28-year-old Tsonga has to be considered one of the ATP's veteran stars. But as we've seen of late, players entering their 30s can not only thrive on tour but also claim its biggest prizes. Yet with all of his innate talent, many still feel Tsonga has yet to achieve his full potential on tour. That includes a still-elusive Grand Slam singles title.
When asked if there was a Grand Slam champion among his fellow French players, including himself, Tsonga said, "Yeah, I think we have the potential to do that. But the potential is not enough; we have to do it. We have some players who play semis sometimes. I think we're already able to do a little bit more."
In a yet another season that has had its shares of highs and lows, Tsonga is hoping to end on a positive note. Don’t be surprised if Tsonga finds a way to end 2013 with an emphatic and, of course, leaping exclamation point.