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TENNIS

France dares to dream as Tsonga advances

Local hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sent the crowds at Roland Garros, as well as the media, into raptures after his straight sets victory over Roger Federer. Tsonga is the first Frenchman to reach the French Open semi-finals since 2008.

France dares to dream as Tsonga advances
French hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Roger Federer in straight sets on June 4th. Could he be the first homegrown men's French Open winner since 1983? Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sent Roger Federer crashing out of the French Open quarter-finals on Tuesday to take a step closer to ending France's 30-year wait for a men's champion at Roland Garros.

Sixth-seed Tsonga swept to a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 triumph to reach his first semi-final in Paris and first by a home player since Gael Monfils in 2008.

The 28-year-old will tackle Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer for a place in Sunday's final.

Victory helped wipe out the misery of his quarter-final in Paris last year where he had four match points over Novak Djokovic but lost in five sets.

"It's extraordinary to be here and to have won," said Tsonga, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of Yannick Noah, France's last men's champion in Paris in 1983.

"I never dreamt of this moment. Today was my moment against a champion who has won everything.

"I didn't think I would get this far without losing a set. But Ferrer has not lost a set as well, he's in great form."

Federer, in his 36th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final, was bidding to win a record 58th career match at Roland Garros and reach his 34th semi-final at a major.

The 17-time Grand Slam title winner also had the advantage of a 9-3 career lead over the French star, but Tsonga had been the man to beat Federer from two sets to love down in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2011.

"It was a bad day, it's a crushing disappointment," admitted Federer.

"But I will forget about it quickly, I usually do.

"Give a lot of credit to Jo, he turns defence into attack very quickly and has got a big game.

"He can take time away from you and has a lot of confidence. That's a big part of his game."

Tsonga had reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set, while 31-year-old Federer had struggled in his fourth round win over Gilles Simon where he had to come back from two sets to one down.

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TENNIS

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash
Serena Williams of the US holds a ball as she prepares to serve to Germany's Julia Goerges on day seven of the French Open. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
   
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
   
“I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
   
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal. It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears…
   
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'.”
   
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
   
Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.
   
But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.
   
Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
   
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.
   
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina 
Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
   
“Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
 
'Numbers don't lie'
 
The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don't lie”.
   
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
 
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against,” said the 31-year-old. “You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
   
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have… Numbers don't lie.”
   
But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
   
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes,” she wrote.
   
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends.”
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