Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loves the Australian Open. Two years ago the unseeded Muhammad Ali-lookalike knocked out Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray en route to his first major final. The 24-year-old Frenchman had not advanced beyond the last eight of a Grand Slam event since, but last night he reached the semi-finals here at the expense of the man who had denied him ultimate glory two years earlier.
Tsonga beat Novak Djokovic, the 2008 champion, 7-6, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 after nearly four hours on a night of drama in the Rod Laver Arena. Djokovic, clearly out of sorts, had fought back to lead by two sets to one, but then had to leave the court early in the fourth set to be sick. The world No 3 revealed afterwards that he had been suffering from a stomach problem and said he had struggled to move throughout the last two sets.
Having never previously played a five-set match, Tsonga has now won two in a row following his victory over Nicolas Almagro on Monday. The world No 10 next plays Roger Federer, who beat Nikolay Davydenko 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5.
"The match changed completely," Tsonga admitted after his victory. "But I was in good shape and I played good tennis, even if he was sick. I feel good. I had good preparation and I hope I will have a lot of power against Roger. It's a tough match, maybe the toughest."
Federer reached his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semi-final – he last failed to make the last four six years ago at the French Open – despite a slow start. Davydenko, who had won 13 matches in a row since losing his first match at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, got off to a flier and led 3-1 in the second set before Federer steadied the ship in the way that only he can, winning 13 games in succession.
"I knew I wasn't looking very good, but that's the beauty of the best of five sets," Federer said. "I wasn't panicking."
The women's semi-finals were due to be played this morning, with Justine Henin facing Zheng Jie and Serena Williams playing Li Na. It was the first time that two Chinese players had featured in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament.
Li looked to be on her way out when Venus Williams served for the match at 5-4 in the second set of their quarter-final, but four unforced errors enabled the No 16 seed to level at 5-5. Li went on to win 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 in a match littered with breaks of serve.
Serena Williams produced a comeback remarkable even by her standards to beat Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Azarenka, who was leading Williams when illness forced her to retire during the second set here last year, was a set and 4-0 up before Williams finally got her game together.
Williams had not dropped a set or been broken in 31 service games in her four previous matches. Azarenka, however, broke serve in the very first game and went on to make five breaks until Williams started her fightback.
Serena, who is chasing a fifth title here, said her sister's defeat earlier in the day had been partly to blame for her poor start. "It was obviously on my mind," she said. "I wasn't playing my best, especially in the first two sets."
Laura Robson reached the quarter-finals of the junior singles, beating Romania's Cristina Dinu 6-3, 6-3, but suffered disappointment in the quarter-finals of the senior doubles. Robson and Australia's Sally Peers made a good start but were beaten 6-4, 6-1 by Russia's Maria Kirilenko and Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska. Oliver Golding, the last Briton in the boys' singles, was beaten 7-6, 7-5 by Australia's James Duckworth.