Melbourne - Jo-Wilfried
Tsonga says the good memories are flooding back as he prepares to take
on Novak Djokovic on Thursday in a blockbuster Australian Open second round
clash - a rematch of their 2008 final.
Eleven years on he recalls his breakthrough Grand Slam fondly -
ranked 38 he beat ninth seed Andy Murray in the first round and romped
past number two Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the semi-final, gaining
a huge band of new fans along the way.
Djokovic won the decider for his maiden major title but it doesn't detract from Tsonga's memories.
"It was great. The stadium was full. A lot of Serbians of course, but
also a lot of French and a lot of Australians," Tsonga recalled.
"That was a good final, so I have good memories. Of course for me, it
was disappointing to lose. But anyway, it was good memories."
It is surprising that the Frenchman has never won a Grand Slam or
even reached another major final, given a career that has gleaned 16 ATP
Tour titles, a number five world ranking and more than $21 million in
"When you come from nowhere, nobody expects you to play that good and
everybody's cheering for you. You're new," he said on the ATP website
of the 2008 clash, but added that expectations quickly changed.
"All the people say: 'OK, now you're the best or one of the best',
and you have to be the best all the time, which is not easy to deal
with, of course."
Tsonga is on the comeback trail after
missing seven months of the 2018 season following left knee surgery and
seeing his ranking plummet outside the top 200.
"It's not very easy because you have to test your mind. You have to
really know if you still want to play and make the effort to come back
at the best level," said Tsonga, who defeated Slovakia's Martin
Klizan in straight sets in the first round.
Now as he climbs back up the rankings he finds himself back where it
all began 11 years ago, and will on Thursday play Djokovic for the 22rd
time since that first clash on Rod Laver Arena.
He has defeated the Serbian number one on six occasions since,
including a revenge win in the 2010 Australian Open quarter-finals.
"Today it's like I'm back in 2007, 2008. People expect less from me," Tsonga said.
"It's also something good for me. I work on my side and I try to come
back and be better on court and I hope I will be able to do good things
Djokovic had his own issues in 2018, needing elbow surgery, before
winning Wimbledon and the US Open to climb back to number one.
"It's funny. I mean, 11 years after our first Grand Slam final here,
it feels like a lot has happened for both of us," said Djokovic after
beating American qualifier Mitchell Krueger.
"He also struggled with injuries lately. It's good to see him playing well. It's good to see him back."