Emotional Jo-Wilfried Tsonga given spine-tingling Chatrier send-off after injury ends French Open dream
Heading into the French Open, former world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said his tournament would be the last. Before hanging up his tennis shoes, however, the 37-year-old was eager to put on a show at Roland-Garros, and he pushed world No. 8 Casper Ruud throughout their first-round encounter, and was close to forcing a decider before a shoulder injury ended his hopes.
Emotional Tsonga gets standing ovation from French Open crowd in heartwarming moment
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga signed off with a typically spirited display as his Roland-Garros retirement party ended with injury heartbreak in his first-round defeat to world No. 8 Casper Ruud.
The 37-year-old confirmed he would be hanging up his tennis shoes after the Grand Slam, but he was hoping to prolong retirement by upsetting the eighth seed.
With his family, plus compatriots Gael Monfils and tournament director Amelie Mauresmo, among those watching on, Tsonga was able to take the first set in a tie-break as the home crowd spurred their Frenchman on.
Ruud fought back to take the next two sets, but the supporters then broke out into the French national anthem when Tsonga was battling to force a decider.
Unforgettable scenes as French Open crowd sing for Tsonga in farewell match
Tsonga almost did just that, having broken in the 11th game, but when serving to take the match to a fifth set, his body – as it has done over the last few years – sadly let him down.
Visibly struggling and holding his shoulder, Tsonga called for the trainer just before the fourth-set tie-break, and though the Frenchman soldiered on, he was unable to win a single point in the breaker, bowing out after the tears flowed while getting a standing ovation before the seventh and final point.
Ruud goes on to face Emil Ruusuvuori after winning 6-7(6) 7-6(4) 6-2 7-6(0), while Tsonga retires with 18 ATP titles, a Davis Cup victory with France in 2017 and an Olympic doubles silver medal from London 2012, having reached a career-high singles ranking of fifth.
Speaking during his farewell presentation, Tsonga said: "I’ve had fabulous days and bad days: I’m a French player, a Swiss player, a Congolese player, a black player, a white player… a decorated player, but most importantly, I am a father."
Tsonga was given a raucous reception as he took to Court Philippe-Chatrier for what he knew could be his last appearance. The former world no. 5 has slipped to 297 in the rankings following years of injury problems.
Watch fans go wild as Tsonga steps out at French Open maybe for final time
He has been a crowd favourite in Paris for 15 years, twice making the semi-finals and coming close to ending the long wait for a men’s singles champion, going back to Yannick Noah in 1983. He also suffered the misfortune of competing in an era dominated by the big three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - as well as Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray.
Ruud entered Roland-Garros as a dark horse for the title after a stunning year, which most recently saw him lift the trophy at the Geneva Open warm-up tournament.
The match got off to an even start, Tsonga clearly motivated by supporters on the main show court. The 37-year-old failed to convert two break points in the third game, as both players held serve in the early stages.
Fired-up Tsonga wins first set against Ruud as Roland-Garros crowd erupts
Rain threatened to bring play to a halt, with the decision made before the match not to close the roof. But the sun came out and the temperature of the match began to increase too. Tsonga saved a break point in the sixth game and Ruud had suddenly found his serve. The Norwegian pushed for a break in the 12th game, but the French veteran held out for a tie-break.
Tsonga was always the front runner throughout, and brought up several mini-breaks. But up set point at 6-4, he chose to leave a shot at the net, only to see the ball agonisingly drop in, dropping to his knees with his head in his hands. He got his opportunity again when Ruud hit a cross court forehand wide, and Tsonga sealed the set 8-6 with an overhead - punching the air in front of his ecstatic supporters.
The Frenchman was rolling back the years and the second set started evenly, but Tsonga missed two break points to take an early advantage in the fourth game, before Ruud duly did the same in the next.
Tsonga found himself in trouble in the seventh game, not helped by dust from the court flying up into his eye, and after an hour and 37 minutes, a long forehand handed Ruud the first break of the match. The 2008 Australian Open runner-up did not let his head drop, and a wayward shot from the eighth seed opened up a break-back opportunity, which Tsonga took.
The set would be settled by a tie-break once again and Tsonga found himself up a mini-break early on. The quality dipped from both players and after the home favourite was pegged back to 3-3, a poor drop shot handed momentum to Ruud, who levelled the match by taking the breaker 7-4 to what was almost silence on Philippe-Chatrier.
Tsonga found himself under pressure early in the third, with Ruud wasting a break opportunity in the second game and finding himself in a see-saw of deuce points. The Norwegian finally took advantage in the Frenchman’s next service game to go 3-1, converting his third opportunity of the set.
A loose service game at 5-2 down allowed Ruud to wrap up what turned out to be a routine set, and Tsonga was either going to need to produce a stirring comeback - or his distinguished professional tennis career was going to come to an end.
The crowd had not given up on Tsonga, who came out swinging at the start of the fourth set. Ruud was still on top, though, and he wasted a break point opportunity in just the second game.
Agonising moment tearful Tsonga suffers injury in farewell match at French Open
Tsonga was not giving up either, and he gave the crowd more to shout about in the latter stages of the set, valiantly keeping it on serve before breaking Ruud in the 11th game.
The roof would have come off if there was one, while the crowd broke out into La Marseillaise during the break before Tsonga served to force a decider, but what followed was a heart-breaking moment in tune with the player’s recent injury struggles.
A shoulder issue seemed to surface seemingly from nowhere, and after he called on the trainer, an emotional breaker resulted in Tsonga losing all seven points, with tears flowing before the seventh and final point.
It was a fitting farewell, in truth, and Roland-Garros organisers paid tribute to Tsonga with a presentation afterwards.
“I wasn’t sure whether I should bring a piece of paper because I didn’t know if I would be capable of saying a few words, but I do have something," Tsonga started, after farewell videos included tributes from Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
"Today’s a big day for me; a day when I say goodbye to my fellow players and colleagues, who I’ve been with since my early days. I’d like to thank everyone who’s accompanied me on this wonderful adventure; everyday supporting me, allowing me to stay the person that I am today - Jo - I had the fortune and the opportunity to do all this - something I dreamed about - I hope all other players have the same chance as me. I’m so lucky to be supported by so many wonderful people; my brother, sister and parents, and many others - I cannot thank them all.
Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray among stars to pay tribute to Tsonga
"I’d like to thank the French Tennis Federation and all those in French tennis for accompanying and supporting me all the way. Thanks also to all my coaches; from the youngest age. Thanks to my sponsors for sticking with me all the way through my career. It’s been incredible to be a part of an amazing generation of French players. I’ve been the kind of player who’s wanted to show resilience from a very young age. I’ve battled and I’ve developed; and now I’m going to stay true to myself and remain the person I am - staying active.
"I’ve had fabulous days and bad days: I’m a French player, a Swiss player, a Congolese player, a black player, a white player… a decorated player, but most importantly, I am a father. I’d like to thank the media as well… I’ve had great moments from tennis through my travels; it’s been an adventure: it really is quite wonderful. I’m now standing in front of you without my racquet, with my best friends of 30 years, and thank you Anoura, for being alongside me every second of every day. My family are my priority: and I hope the world will be kind to them. Thank you Roland-Garros, thank you, tennis, I love you."
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