Wed, 06 Jul 2022

French veteran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Tuesday bade farewell to tennis after a dramatic four-set defeat to eighth seed Casper Ruud.

Tsonga, 37, announced last month that he would step away from the tour he has graced for 19 years at the 2022 French Open.

With his ranking at 297, the French Federation de Tennis, which organises the event, gave him an invitation into the main draw for a grandstand finish.

And he obliged against the 23-year-old Norwegian.

Vintage

Tsonga carved open the first chances to break serve. He squandered the first with a bravura forehand drive volley that flew metres long. He fluffed the second with a forehand drive that slumped into the net.

There were moments of deftness at the net and those feared famed forehand slaps generating immense power.

Ruud, who won at the Geneva Open last week, proved gutsy and solid in the first set tiebreak.

He staved off two set points but he coughed up a third when his forehand drive landed in the tramlines. And Tsonga took the honours after 68 minutes with a smash at the net.

Change

But the Frenchman ran into trouble mid way in the second set. He had to save two break points before taking a 3-2 lead. And he got into the same predicament when trying to go 4-3 ahead.

This time he couldn't extricate himself and Ruud broke him for the first time to gain the advantage. But Tsonga broke straight back for 4-4.

They traded blows until the tiebreaker where Ruud imposed himself seven points to four.

He carried the momentum into the third set where he broke for a 3-1 lead and he wrapped it up 6-2.

In the fourth, to the delight of the partisans, Tsonga broke to lead 6-5 with a chance to serve and take the match into a decider.

But his body had cracked. His first delivery was greeted with gasps -barely 130 km/h whereas bludgeons of 210 km/h had rained down mintues earlier.

Ruud wrapped up the game to take the set into a tiebreak.

Emotion

Though Tsonga received treatment before the shoot-out, it was effectively a walk to the gallows.

The players changed ends with Ruud leading six points to love. Tsonga took an age to deliver the final serve of a competitive lifetime.

He wiped his brow. And his eyes. Paused and wiped his eyes. The ball went over and then it was over.

Ruud quickly claimed the point to end a match and an adventure.

"It's tough for all of us that you are going Jo," Ruud said. "You've been an inspiration to me and a lot of the young guys. You've been the perfect example of what a tennis player should be like."

In a ceremony to mark his career, fellow players, former trainers and his family came on the court to hail his career.

Video tributes from Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were also shown.

Gratitude

"I'd like to thank everyone who helped me stay the wide-eyed kid who wanted to play tennis," said Tsonga.

"Sustained by family and friends, I had the luck and possibility to fulfill my dreams."

Elsewhere in the men's draw, second seed Daniil Medvedev, who is playing in only his second tournament since recovering from surgery on a hernia, moved into the second round with a straight sets win over Fecundo Bagnis from Argentina. It finished 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to the 26-year-old Russian in 98 minutes.

"I'm really happy about my first round restult," said Medvedev. "You know, on clay I have to focus even more on myself than on the opponent. Just have to not make mistakes, put the ball in the court. Today I managed to do this well.

He added: "I'm feeling good physically, mentally and I'm ready for the next round, which is not going to be easy."

Originally published on RFI

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