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TENNIS

Tsonga loss ends French Roland Garros hopes

For long-suffering French tennis fans, the agonising wait for a male champion at the French Open goes on, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the latest to succumb to the Roland Garros jinx.

Tsonga loss ends French Roland Garros hopes
Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

The 28-year old from the car-race town of Le Mans had motored smoothly into the last four without dropping a set and hopes were sent sky-high that at last Yannick Noah's iconic win in Paris 30 years ago would be matched.

But on a sultry June evening with the shadows lengthening on the Philippe Chatrier centre court, Tsonga went the way of so many of his compatriots before him, unable to produce the goods when it mattered at the temple of claycourt tennis.

Tsonga had looked every bit a winner after his straight sets demolition of Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and his matchup with David Ferrer had been hotly anticipated throughout France, leading TV news bulletins and fronting the widely-read L'Equipe newspaper.

But to start with, scheduling got in the way as the Tsonga-Ferrer match was placed second up after the other semi-final bout between defending champion Rafael Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic.

That turned out to be a five set epic, won by Nadal, lasting 4 hours and 37 minutes which left the centre court faithful needing to take a breather before turning their attentions to the second of the last four games.

When Tsonga and Ferrer marched out to do battle, the court was half-empty and there was little electricity left in the air. Tsonga could not help but notice.

"It was a bit strange, you see, because there were half of the seats that were empty. This was a bit weird," he said.

However, Tsonga insisted that after such a classic match between the two top seeds, it was normal that there was some down-time.

What surprised him more was the play of 31-year-old Ferrer – a player who had failed to reach a Grand Slam final in 41 previous attempts and who only had his never-say-die attitude and superb fitness to put up against the big serves and thumping groundstrokes of his opponent.

"What surprised me was that he was even faster than usual," said Tsonga.

"Sometimes I thought he would be put off balance. Whenever I was hitting good points he was a good defender and could play as well as a defender."

"He was not just hitting back. He would destabilize me, putting me off my position. So each time I wanted to use my serve machine, he returned so well. Sometimes I served at 210 (kilometres an hour), but he returned really strongly."

The desire to do well with so much expectations placed on his shoulders, he insisted was not a factor in his defeat.

"Frankly, I was feeling good. I was feeling really good and I was not stressed. I was not too stressed."

"Well, of course, there's a little stress, but I must say I had more stress during the first round than today. Now I'm disappointed because I didn't enjoy this match as much as I wanted because this was a semi-final."

It will come as little consolation to the French public that they are not alone in enduring a long wait to celebrate a home winner of their Grand Slam event.

The last British winner of Wimbledon was Fred Perry way back in 1936, the last Australian to win on home soil was Mark Edmondson in 1976 and the last American winner in New York was Andy Roddick in 2003.

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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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