French Open 2022: La Marseillaise rings out as friends and family bid farewell to Tsonga

Casper Ruud battles hard in emotional thriller; Medvedev and Gasquet also lift French crowd

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It was something of a red-letter day at Roland Garros as the schedule reached Day 3 and the completion of Round 1.

Yes, defending champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic had cruised through his opener on Monday night, and yes, the 13-time champion Rafael Nadal had also advanced in a scant two hours. Both admired, both with huge fan support, and both expected to advance with similar ease come Round 2.

But neither man was likely to draw the kind of reception and adoration from the French faithful reserved for the 37-year-old Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who had announced he would hang up his racket after this very tournament.

Tsonga played his first Roland Garros in 2005, and went on to be one of the most consistent and entertaining men of his generation—but in a generation that contained Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

He lost his only Major final, in Australia, to Djokovic, his only ATP Finals title match to Federer, and two of his four Masters finals to the same men.

Yet despite a career littered with injury problems, his flamboyant tennis and engaging personality saw him at No5 in the ranks, and with two Masters titles among 18 career titles. He also became one of just three players to beat Djokovic, Nadal and Federer when each was No1, bracketing him with Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray. Outstanding company indeed.

On this Tuesday afternoon, he had been drawn against one of the more formidable players in the draw: No8 seed Casper Ruud, a man 14 years the junior, with 15-5 on clay this season, including two titles. Indeed seven of Ruud’s eight titles were on clay—though he was also runner-up at this year’s Miami Masters.

Tsonga had won just two matches this year, and none on clay: Though that was more than last year, where he picked up a single match-win. But if the Chatrier fans had their way, he would add at least one more in the biggest and best French tournament.

Ruud was the first to face a serious challenge on serve, in the third game. He survived break point, and although he had a chance to break in the sixth game, the two men headed via some very competitive rallies towards a tie-break.

Ruud had enjoyed the upper hand for much of the set, but Tsonga was clearly warming to his task, firing his forehand from corner to corner and running Ruud ragged, adding drops and net charges into the equation. He took the first lead in the tie-break, too, 4-2, as the fans roared and stamped their approval. Tsonga went on to serve at 6-4, but would need a third bite of the cherry to seal it, 7-6(6).

The Frenchman seemed to be giving Ruud a tactical brain-freeze, for while the speedy young Norwegian ran for all his worth, he repeatedly fell victim to the big one-two serve and forehand, and dropped the ball short for Tsonga to attack with relish.

Again Ruud let break chances pass him by in the fifth game. However, that changed with the first break of the match to Ruud to go 4-3—though it did not last long. Tsonga broke straight back, and again they headed to a tie-break, where he again took the early lead, 2-0, with a winner off a drop-shot.

Ruud, though, served at 5-4, despite his unusual number of forehand errors, and this time won it, 7-6(4), with the match now well over two hours old. So the big question had to be, did Tsonga have the energy and stamina to out-last the super-fit Ruud?

Ruud again got an early break chance, but Tsonga aced to hold. However, a forehand Ruud winner got a break two games later, 3-1. Yet again, the sizzling power of Tsonga hit back, but Ruud resisted, 4-1, and broke again for the set, 6-2.

The Norwegian needed to focus to eliminate too many errors, and missed an early chance to break. Eventually, Tsonga served to save the set, faced deuce, but found his big serve to hold, 5-5—all at once, he had three break points: The arena erupted as he broke to love.

Now a rousing La Marseillaise filled Court Chatrier as Tsonga served for the set, but suddenly, he was hurt, could not serve, and Ruud broke for a tie-break. The Frenchman tried a medical time out, but it was to no avail: His shoulder could not perform. Tough moments for Ruud, too, but he managed to see it out, 7-6(0) with the Frenchman in tears.

The winner was gracious to the end, not taking his salute but leaving the moment to Tsonga and his thousands of fans, and there were, of course, tears everywhere—plus the famous Tsonga smile. Alongside all his former coaches, his family, and fellow French players, he watches messages from those very men he had beaten at their heights: Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. And the Frenchman smiled.

One of those French players to embrace his compatriot was also a precociously talented young player. Richard Gasquet was in action on the other show court at Roland Garros just as Tsonga and Ruud got underway. Now 35 years old, and ranked 86, Gasquet had reached the ATP Finals in 2007 and again in 2013, but his elegant single-handed game first appeared at his home Major 20 years ago.

Not that even his most ardent fans expected him to outdo that solitary quarter-final run at his home Major. Apart from anything else, he was drawn into segment that promised the extraordinary teenage star Carlos Alcaraz in the third round.

However, Gasquet slept on Monday evening with a set and 5-2 lead over the 39-ranked Lloyd Harris, and he came back amid showery intervals to seal the second set, 6-3. He then quickly took a lead in the third, too, and completed a memorable win, 6-4, in under two hours. He will next play No27 seed Sebastian Korda, who put out John Millman.

But what of one of the biggest names in Paris, the No2 seed Daniil Medvedev? Though Russian by birth, the US Open champion has been a French resident since he was a boy, and declared is love for playing in Paris before the tournament.

And while his proficiency on clay had been slow to evolve, he finally reached the quarters at Roland Garros last year after failing to win a match in four previous attempts. He was also keen to point out this week that he had won in Paris before—at the Masters in Bercy.

There was, though, pressure not just to perform at the French tournament but to put aside any thought of regaining the No1 ranking. Should he reach the final, Medvedev could top Djokovic a week later—the French Open was played a week later in 2021.

But perhaps Medvedev’s biggest hurdle was his own physical fitness. He began 2022 strongly with a final run at the Australian Open but after a quarter-final finish in Miami, he pulled out of the clay swing to have a hernia operation, not returning until last week. It was a quicker recovery than he had anticipated, but just how well he had recovered was yet to be fully tested.

And he found himself in a gritty and high-quality battle in the early stages of his match against Facundo Bagnis, with an exchange of breaks, then another after a seven-minute game to grab the advantage.

In truth, it looked as though the Russian had only to keep the points and the games long to wear down Bagnis, whose calf was heavily strapped from knee to ankle. Of course, a testing match would also help the world No2 to build some rhythm and confidence in his body in only his second tournament since that surgery hiatus.

And after facing a few deft drops from Bagnis, Medvedev returned the favour with three winners to consolidate, 4-2. A stunning cross-court backhand winner broke again, and Medvedev served out the set to love, 6-2.

The Russian broke in the opener of the second set, but Bagnis was not about to throw in the towel, and pressed his opponent through two deuces before he held. Now, though, the high-stakes tennis of the Argentine was producing more errors, with his movement visibly impeded to the extremities of the court.

The leftie battled on, and if not stretched too far and fast, was still striking the ball well and with smart tactics. It was, indeed, up to Medvedev to force the issue—never an easy position against an injured man. And Bagnis thumped a couple of forehands to earn three break points. Medvedev was unfazed: with angles, drops, passes, he held, and then served it out 6-2.

The third set followed the same pattern, Medvedev breaking at the start, Bagnis admirably keeping in the rallies—and with the Russian making more errors as his concentration seemed to drift. He started to double fault, three times in the fourth game, with perhaps some hernia scarring playing its part, and Bagnis broke—entirely against the run of play.

However, Medvedev quickly remedied it, broke for 3-2, and made very few more mistakes. Refocused, he cruised to the win, 6-2, to set a second-round match against Laslo Djere, who beat Ricardas Berankis, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

So not exactly a French victory, but a close thing: Medvedev conducted his on-court interview entirely in French, and was cheered to the rims of the Lenglen arena.

Other men’s results

Holger Rune beat No14 seed Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 6-1, 7-6(4)

Alexander Bublik beat Arthur Rinderknech, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4

No32 seed Lorenzo Sonego beat Peter Gojowczyk, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1

Cristian Garin beat No30 seed Tommy Paul, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3

David Goffin beat Jiri Lehecka, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4

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