In an exclusive interview with The Tennis Space, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga talks about his dreams of winning a grand slam and becoming Olympic champion (“because when you win that competition you become the best sportsman in the world”).
France’s world number six recalls “my most difficult moment” – missing the 2008 Beijing Games through injury, and discloses that his signature celebration, of spinning around, with the thumbs pointing to the back of his shirt, has his origins on the day he received a standing ovation at London’s Queen’s Club.
You had a great finish to 2011, reaching the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. How have the first two months of 2012 gone for you?
I played well. I am in good shape, I had some good results, maybe not like I expected but good results. But I am sure it will come later. I am in good shape, I practised well and I feel good. All the time, I had the positive spirit. I reached the fifth place on the rankings and when you do that you have to expect (that you can become) number one. To beat the best every day you have to expect the best. I am number six right now and I hope I will continue to improve.
The top four seem to have separated themselves from the rest – do you see it that way?
Of course we feel that because they play all the time together in majors so we can feel that. I am number six but I expect more, so I continue to work. I hope one time I will reach semis like them.
Is that not frustrating?
No, it’s not frustrating. I mean, if they were not there, maybe I could win a grand slam but for me, it’s good because I am not number one and I still have a goal. In life it’s important to have a goal and to have a dream. When you don’t dream any more you are dead. For me it’s good to have a dream and try to reach this goal.
You love playing on grass and because of the Olympics you have two chances at Wimbledon this summer?
Yeah, it’s good for me. It’s going to be good to come back to Wimbledon, I like this tournament. And of course the Olympics will be a special moment for me. Four years ago, I didn’t participate at the Olympics because I was in my bed in the hospital at that time. I had just had knee surgery. It was a really hard moment for me because I like to play for my country and represent them. This year for me, the most important thing for the moment is to participate and then when I am there, I will give everything on the court.
How bad was missing Beijing?
It was really bad, really bad. I have had a lot of surgery but it was maybe the most difficult (moment) for me.
What does the Olympics mean for you?
For me, it’s above the tennis. You don’t speak about tennis, you speak about sports and it’s really different. I think for all my life I will watch it and I will enjoy it. Even if I don’t participate, I will enjoy these moments. Maybe the best memories I have in sports are from the Olympics, I had some really good moments. The best one is maybe from the last winter Olympics. With Jason Lamy Chapuis (who won the Nordic combined gold medal in 2010). I was in front of my TV and I was (shouting) “come on! come on”.
How would winning it compare to winning a grand slam title?
For sure it will be different. I cannot say it will be better because I played tennis since I am a kid. I want to win a major and this is a big dream. But to win the Olympics is different. It’s not only about tennis. When you win this competition you become the best sportsman in the world.
Will you stay in the Olympic village?
Yeah. It’s a long way (from Wimbledon) but I will come (to England) a bit early and stay with all the French team at the village, at the beginning, then just before the tournament I will stay maybe near the tennis. It will happen only one time in my life so I will just enjoy it.
There has been talk that the appearance money some players are being paid at some tournaments is too much. What do you think?
It’s actually nice for the players. I don’t know, in your work, if somebody gave you a bit more money, you would take it, for sure. Sometimes, some players want more, but actually there are some players who come to Indian Wells and they lose money. This is maybe the only work where you go where you are obliged to go and you can lose money. If you don’t go, you get a fine. I think it’s important to know that. There are some players who win a lot and some players who need to win a bit more and that’s it.
Your post-match celebration (spinning round, thumbs pointing to back of his shirt) has become famous. How did it start?.
It was the first time I reached the top 100. I played Lleyton Hewitt at Queen’s and he was the defending champion for two years and I beat him. With this victory I reached the top 100. He was like 4, 3 in the world. I was 120 or something, and then I won. The English crowd, at Queen’s, was really quiet. I did it right after the match – I don’t know why (exactly) I did it (that way). Before that, everyone was quiet and after that everybody was standing up and they did a standing ovation. I was like, wow, if it works here, it’s going to work everywhere. And it does.
Do you ever think back to the time when you had a serious back injury and the way you recovered?
Yeah, of course, I still think about that. I am proud of that because I achieved it after a lot of work. When I think about it, I say, OK, I did a good thing because a lot of players who had the same surgery, maybe after one month, they stopped tennis for ever. So I am maybe one of the only players who had this and still play tennis, so when I speak about it I am quite proud.
Dmitry Tursunov is our agony uncle. Do you have a question for him?
He is crazy. That’s funny. I have a lot of questions in my head but I can’t say them. For sure I will ask him myself. (Laughing).
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is part of the adidas team. You can see behind-the-scenes footage from the interview by following adidas Tennis on Twitter.