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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2012 Olympic Feat 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga just won the longest match in Olympic history with a 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 win over Canadian Nilos Raonic. The 66 game match took three hours and 56 minutes, breaking the previous Olympic record of 48 games when Chilean Fernando Gonzalez defeated American Taylor Dent in Athens in 2004, 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 to win the bronze medal in men’s singles. The lengthy battle exemplifies the Olympic spirit and his French countrymen and sponsor, Babolat Tennis Racquets, have to be proud of the performance, but the big question now is, will Tsonga have enough left in the tank to compete for  a medal?

It would seem that Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the London Olympics because of tendinitis in the knee would open the door somewhat for Tsonga, but history suggests otherwise. Of all the players who rank above Tsonga in the ATP rankings, Nadal, who like Tsonga, also plays with tennis racquets made by Babolat, is the one who Tsonga has had the most success playing against. 

Overall, Tsonga has a career record of 3-7 against Nadal; in Grand Slam events, they are 1-1 against each other. In the fourth round of the 2007 U.S. Open, Nadal defeated Tsonga, 7-6, 6-2, 6-1. In the 2008 Australian Open, Tsonga avenged the U.S. Open loss with a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Nadal. Tsonga eventually went on to the finals where he played competitively in a loss to Novak Djokovic,  4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 7–6. The 2008 Australian Open remains Tsonga’s best performance in a Grand Slam event to date.

No decent human being wishes injury on another player, but if history is any indicator, a look at Tsonga’s head-to head performances against Any Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic suggests that Tsonga’s chances for a medal in London would be better if one of those three were injured instead of Nadal.

Tsonga is 1-6 against Great Britain’s Andy Murray, with his only win coming in the 2008 Australian Open. Murray eliminated Tsonga in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2010 and in the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2012. With Murray playing in his home country in the Olympics, he has more fan support and added motivation to medal and will likely be an even more difficult opponent for Tsonga.

Against Federer, Tsonga has a career record of 3-8. He eliminated Federer in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2011, but Federer has wins over Tsonga in the semifinals of the 2010 Australian Open and the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Open.  Federer is currently the top-ranked player in the world and won a gold medal in doubles for Switzerland at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Novak Djokovic has also stood in the way of Tsonga’s quest for a Grand Slam title. With an 8-7 career record over Tsonga he may be the most beatable of the three contenders left, but it depends on how you look at it. While the overall record is relatively even, Djokovic is 3-1 against Tsonga in Grand Slam events, suggesting that the Serbian star rises to the occasion at the bigger events. In addition to the 2008 Australian Open, Djokovic defeated Tsonga at the 2012 French Open and Wimbledon in 2011. Tsonga’s lone Grand Slam win over Djokovic came in the 2010 Australian Open quarterfinals.

As far as other players who use Babolat tennis racquets go, the only realistic contender for a medal appears to be Belgian Kim Clijsters, who advanced to the third round of the Olympics women’s singles.  Earlier this year, Clijsters announced that she will retire after this year’s U.S. Open, a site of several of her personal triumphs. Another Babolat spokesperson, China’s Li Na, suffered a disappointing first round loss.

Tsonga faces an uphill battle in his quest for an Olympic medal as he will have to recover quickly from Tuesday’s match and defy history. In the spirit of athletic competition and the Olympic ideal, if Tsonga was to win gold, it would be a historic moment for the sport and the Games.  It would also be a huge moment in France, home to many of Tsonga’s fans and his tennis racquet supplier, Babolat.

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