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Tsonga© Getty ImagesFrenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been a fan favourite since his breakthough at the 2008 Australian Open, when he reached the final.

As spectators at this week’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will see, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loves to have fun on court. Robert Davis, of DEUCE Magazine, profiles the Frenchman.

Just what is it about Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that makes us enjoy watching him play tennis so much? How about those times during a final set when he has been just as likely to flash a smile at a pretty girl in the crowd or playfully tease a ballboy as he has been to hit a backhand passing shot for a winner on break point? Welcome to Tsonga’s world, where spectators are often treated to more than just a tennis match.

Tsonga allows us to experience what he is feeling, both the good and the bad. We stomp our feet in dismay when he misses a simple volley in the net. Or clap our hands in appreciation when he runs around the entire court to fire a clean winner with an inside-out forehand that comes off his racquet like a shotgun blast. Or when he experienced a career highlight at last year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals by being the runner-up to Roger Federer. Win or lose, a Tsonga match is the ultimate fan-friendly tennis experience. And if he does happen to win, then we are treated to the sweetest of post-match celebrations: a jumping, spinning, smiling, bicep-flexing grown-up little boy who happens to be a professional tennis player. It is plainly obvious to everyone that Tsonga loves to play tennis.

“I play tennis the way I live; I try to enjoy myself on and off the court”

“For me, life is about journeys with people,” Tsonga says. “It gives me energy when people are into my matches. I am really sensitive to the crowd and I want them to feel good. I play tennis the way I live; I try to enjoy myself on and off the court.”

A number of experts think that Tsonga is one of those players who has not produced his best stuff until relatively late in his career. True, he did burst onto our radar back in 2008 when he made the final of the Australian Open. However, it has only been over the past couple of years that he has firmly established himself as a Top 10 player. That has been partly due to a number of injuries.

Over the years, and during numerous periods of rehabilitation, Tsonga has had plenty of time on the sidelines to reflect. It was most likely during one of those breaks that he decided to go at it alone and split from his longtime coach Eric Winogradsky. In the 18 months that followed, his South African Airways ATP Ranking rose from No. 22 to a career-high of No. 5.

“I felt like I just want to follow my road and my opinion for awhile,” says Tsonga, who recently enlisted Australian Roger Rasheed’s services for the 2013 season. “During the time that I have not had a coach I have improved a lot, maybe not my technical game, but more I improved as a man. When you are alone you take all the responsibility of all that you do and all the choices that you make. That made me grow up faster and it was a good experience for that stage of my life.”

TsongaTsonga’s is a high-risk, high-reward style of tennis. Tsonga is the guy who throws all his chips on the table and rolls the dice with a grin. Make no mistake about it, he plays to win, and he has beaten all of the top four at the Grand Slams. When he came from two sets down to beat Federer in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon 2011, it was a big feather in his cap, showing that he had the qualities to put himself in position to win a Grand Slam. “I am maybe not the best player,” Tsonga has said. “But I keep fighting and this could be one of the best examples. I am proud of it. I often made some sacrifices for results like this and it is nice to get the reward.”

A typical Tsonga point features a booming serve, a few whacks from the back of the court and then a crouching tiger, leaping dragon-style approach shot that often ends with a drop-volley that either just clears the net or ticks the tape and falls back on his side. For the spectator, it makes for good entertainment, but for the veteran coach there is this question: What would happen if Tsonga showed a bit more discipline? “I am not a player who plays with discipline,” Tsonga admits. “I think differently than the other players. And that is why my game is like this. I fear losing, but it is more than just losing and winning but how you go about it.”

Whatever Tsonga chooses to do on the court – keep running wild or temper the fire – we will continue to cheer for him. For Jo-Wilfried Tsonga makes tennis fun to watch.

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