Tsonga out to erase his biggest setback
Doha: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga believes the Qatar Open is in the ideal place to continue a comeback from what he describes as the biggest setback of his career.
The former world number six from France is enjoying the mild warmth and balmy air of the Arabian Gulf as he recovers from a knee injury which has been maddeningly persistent since he reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in July.
Tsonga was struck down again in October and forced to miss the Davis Cup final in which France lost 3-2 to Serbia in Belgrade last month.
For a player with a 6-0 unbeaten record for his country to have to sit and watch, believing he might have made the difference, was agony. Tsonga hopes with a passion that sunshine, success, and a new season will banish that feeling.
If it does, the 25-year-old with the sensationally powerful game can also build on achievements which include being the ATP`s newcomer of the year in 2007, the most improved player of the year in 2008, and the capture of five ATP World Tour titles.
"It`s an ideal place to start the season and prepare for the Australian Open, which I love," said Tsonga, who made a big break-through in Melbourne two years ago by beating Rafa Nadal and reaching the final.
The Swiss-based Frenchman also reached the Aussie semi-finals last year, causing another major upset by beating former champion Novak Djokovic, and he would like nothing better than to be in decent shape for the first Grand Slam of 2011 in a fortnight`s time.
"Missing so much tennis has made me hungry and I`m really looking forward to the competition again," he said.
Tsonga`s 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1 loss to Robin Soderling in Abu Dhabi three days ago was an exhibition only, so this week will see his first fully competitive match since October and only his tenth in six months.
Despite that scoreline, Tsonga claimed to feel good about his first Gulf try-out. "I think I have improved a lot and I have more confidence now," he said.
He will have a further chance to confirm this judgement when he takes on Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, the world number 77 from of Spain in the first round of the 1,024,000-dollar Qatar Open on Monday.
If Tsonga wins he could then meet Sergei Bubka, the 23-year-old Ukrainian who is the son of pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, an Olympic gold medallist who was once voted the world`s best athlete.
Another victory might give the third-seeded Tsonga a quarter-final with another Spaniard, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, ranked 33 in the world, with the lure of a likely semi-final with Roger Federer.
The Grand Slam record-holder from Switzerland was philosophical about his 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) loss to Nadal in the Abu Dhabi final Saturday.
"I try not to think about making it a mental battle out there because I will have enough of those in the next few years," Federer said, apparently trying to make light of his 29 years.
"I want to relax and play freely, and of course then you can make mistakes when you do that."
Federer did nevertheless give credit to Nadal, whom he should meet again, according to the seedings, in the final here in six days time.
Nadal`s attitude was different.
"The pressure is every day about winning matches," he said. "I don`t think about winning the Australian Open. I think about Doha."