Tsonga has long hinted at being a heavyweight hit
After recent dip Frenchman is back to his belting best (just don't mention his Muhammad Ali resemblance)
Thursday 30 June 2011
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the most genial of characters but the one way you can be sure of trying his patience is to ask him what life has been like as a Muhammad Ali lookalike. However, given that the 26-year-old Frenchman's father actually attended the "Rumble in the Jungle", when Ali beat George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974, the comparisons are inevitable.
Tsonga's father, Didier, was born in Congo and lived in Brazzaville, which sits on the other side of the Congo River from Kinshasa. He watched the most famous fight in history, when Ali regained the heavyweight world championship from Foreman using his "rope-a-dope" tactic of leaning back on the ropes and soaking up his opponent's punches. Didier took photographs of the fight, which his son now cherishes as souvenirs.
Asked whether Ali had ever been an inspiration to him, Jo-Wilfried once said: "Maybe his personality on the court. Maybe I think I have the same tennis as his boxing." What did he feel about the comparisons? "It's just an honour for me to be compared with him. That's all."
Didier met his future wife, Evelyne, after coming to France to study for a chemistry degree in the late Seventies. They are a sporting family. Didier, a science teacher, was a handball international, while Enzo, Jo-Wilfried's younger brother, is a basketball player. The family settled in Le Mans, though Jo-Wilfried now lives in Switzerland.
Tsonga showed plenty of early promise as a tennis player but his progress was stalled by serious back problems. He made up for lost time at the 2008 Australian Open, when he beat Andy Murray in the first round and Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals before losing to Novak Djokovic in what has been his only appearance so far in a Grand Slam final.
In the same year he achieved his highest world ranking at No 6, though he has never quite lived up to the promise he showed in Melbourne three years ago. He has won five titles on the tour but none since 2009.
At 6ft 2in, and more than 14 stone, the world No 19 has the frame and the big-hitting game to excel on grass. He first came to the attention of the British public in 2007, when Lleyton Hewitt was among five of his victims at Queen's Club. On the Saturday before the tournament he won two qualifying matches in the morning before dashing across London to win a semi-final in the Surbiton Challenger tournament in the afternoon.
He went on that year to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he also reached the quarter-finals 12 months ago before losing to Murray in the quarter-finals.
Tsonga became known to the wider British public for the incident that cost Carol Thatcher her job at the BBC two years ago. The daughter of the former prime minister made a backstage "golliwog" remark about him to the One Show presenter Adrian Chiles and a guest, Jo Brand.
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