French Open Diary — This is What They Want
Forgive me for beginning with the spectators again today, but it’s impossible to discuss Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s final professional match without the people that fought alongside him.
This is what they wanted. Serve and volley. The incredible hands at the net. The fist pumps. Tsonga’s energy meter charging in front of our eyes.
Playing the Aaron Krickstein role was Casper Ruud. There is nothing to dislike about Ruud, making the desire for shanks and the various errors that are required for an upset of this magnitude that much more problematic. But we made our peace with this a few minutes in. Nobody said it had to be pretty.
Tsonga is infinitely more likeable than Jimmy Connors, but it was hard to mentally shake that match on Labor Day at the US Open in 1991. Connors was a bit older at the time than Jo-Willy and the idea of Tsonga replicating a run to the semifinals was fanciful even before considering the ground altering changes in tennis that transpired over the past decades.
There were other differences, of course. Philippe Chatrier didn’t seem entirely full, and the spectre of something ending, namely a beloved son’s career, made the atmosphere heavy. The commentary on my feed left much to be desired as well. Maybe I wanted them to embrace the silence a little too much given their job description features the task of speaking often.
Tsonga was serving to stay alive at 4-5 in the fourth set and held a 40-0 lead. What followed next were mistakes, a time violation, and another plea to the people that have watched him so many times before. It worked. Tsonga recovered from teetering over the edge and we kept going. Five sets on the horizon and La Marseillaise spontaneously sung. This is what they wanted.
These things tend to end in the most heartbreaking of ways. An injury was the culprit this time and Tsonga’s face couldn’t hide it. The final request made by me — and I imagine many others — was for JWT to finish this on his own terms. The physio’s work on the Frenchman’s right shoulder was just enough to ensure this but it was a sad end. I won’t forget the crowd at 0-6 in the tiebreak, standing to watch the final point. I won’t forget Ruud clapping alongside them. Amelie Mauresmo and company nailed the post-match ceremony. Don’t talk to me if you did not cry.
So that’s it. The game says goodbye to one of its greatest showmen. Someone that made matches worth watching, no matter where or when they took place. Tsonga was one of the main characters when I really got into this sport. He’s put a smile on my face so many times. The outpouring of love for him today was a good indication of the kind of player and person he is.
Goodbye, Jo-Wilfried. Thanks for everything.