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Interview: Mature Tsonga motivated for Major 2014

New start: Tsonga kicked off the new season in impressive fashion in Abu Dhabi
Reem Abulleil

Tennis players do not get more charismatic nor entertaining than Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The 28-year-old’s run to the Australian Open final in 2008 remains one of the most impressive surprises at a major in recent years and as he enters the season with a new team, comprising joint coaches Thierry Ascione and Nicolas Escude, Tsonga seems fresh and ready for 2014.

He kicked off his season in Abu Dhabi where he played Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on consecutive days and if his form in those matches is anything to go by, we can expect good things from the ever- smiling Frenchman.

Sport360°’s Reem Abulleil caught up with Tsonga in the UAE capital...

This year will be your 11th on tour, how do you compare your mentality now as a player to when you were starting out and how do you make sure you’re still motivated?

It works in periods. Today I have a lot of motivation. I’m ready to make all the sacrifices to be at the top, that’s what I want the most. So today I’m fresh. I have a different personality because I’ve grown up and I’m more mature and I know exactly what I want. Before it was a bit different.

Do you think it’s easier sometimes in tennis if you’re young and reckless and not really aware of the magnitude of things to achieve big feats or is tennis today more about being mature?

It’s better when you’re young and you’re physically fresh and you can run everywhere without problems and when you get older you have to deal with some physical problems and stuff and that’s what makes it a bit more difficult. But then you have the experience which is important too. Both ways, you can play when you are young and a little bit less younger.

You had your best Roland Garros, your home slam, in 2013, making it to the semis for the first time. Was there too much pressure on you?

I was in my tournament, I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t watch TV and I didn’t read any papers. I was just trying to do what I’m doing the best and that’s it. But when people support me it’s always positive pressure anyway. It’s good to know that people are behind you and want you to win.

Did the defeat to David Ferrer in the semi-finals affect you for a long time?

It affected me because I saw that the people weren’t supporting me a lot because when I came on the court the stadium was half empty. Because there was a long match before me ( between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) and they all went out to do other things.

It was half empty in my own country. But I didn’t lose because of this. I lost that match because I think David played well.

He didn’t give me too many opportunities to develop my game and then I missed two shots that put me in trouble and that’s it. But sometimes in tennis it’s going quick, there are a few important points and if you don’t deal with them well you just lose.

The game right now is dominated by baseline players, do you think you need to add some elements to your game to be able to keep up with them, especially that you have a more aggressive style?

For the moment I’m not a serve and volley player. I’m a little bit in the middle, because I play good tennis from the baseline and I also go to the net.

So I think I still have to find the right balance between both of them and like that maybe I’ll be a better player. That’s what I’m looking for and that’s what I’m practicing for.

You spent a couple of years without a coach and had great results, but now you have two, Nicolas Escude and Thierry Ascione. Was it difficult adapting to life with coaches again?

I had coaches since I was eight years old. So I didn’t have a coach for maybe two years and for me it was just the possibility to escape because during that time I was a bit tired of it. tired of everything around it.

So I said ‘I need some time and rebuild myself’. And now I have those two coaches who are good and I’m doing a good job with them since we started and I hope it will continue.

What’s the advantage of working with Thierry and Nicolas?

They played a good level of tennis so they know what they’re talking about it. They’re young, so they give me a lot of positive attitude... this freshness, which is nice.

We are from the same generation so they can understand me and I think that we can do some good work together. The challenge to many players now is to be able to beat Nadal, Djokovic back-to- back over best-of-five matches in majors.

Do you think you will be up to that task this year?

If I think I’m not able to achieve it I will stop. I’m not that kind of guy who will play just for playing and be on the tour, I don’t care. I have family, I make a lot of sacrifices to play tennis, even if it’s my passion, so I’m doing it just because I really believe that I can do something great.

I’m not doing it for recognition from people. I’m doing it for me. Because when I was young I had a dream to win a Grand Slam and whatever people think, I just try to do everything in a good way and I hope it will happen.

You’ve been coming to the Abu Dhabi event for quite some time, do you feel there’s a big difference in the level of interest here year after year?

These kind of events, it’s already big. They’ve got six of the top-10 players in the world, five of the six best players in the world. You can do a lot of things but for that you need a big organisation and maybe a really big tournament to do a bit more.

I think they know what they have to do. If you see how it goes in other countries like England, France, Australia, they have majors and when you have a major you are able to do many things because it’s huge in the country.