For a brief, golden moment on Court Philippe Chatrier, before a raucous crowd that suffered through every point as if their own careers were on the line, the scene resembled old times. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was flying through the air as he always did before, crushing forehands, flitting to the net. More than once he brought out his iconic single-handed backhand, just for fun. He banged his chest and rallied the crowd. He did not even need to: they have been eating out of the palm of his hand for 13 years.
Inevitably, it did not last. After winning a set against one of the best clay court players in the world and then roaring back at the death, reality slowly caught up with the 37-year-old. He had been gradually ground down by Casper Ruud, the eighth seed, and eventually his body gave out. As Tsonga tearfully lost 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (0), one of the standout, most enjoyable tennis careers of the past 15 years came to an end.
Tsonga’s retirement announcement shortly before the French Open was not a surprise. He has suffered through numerous injuries in his final years, with his movement and his athleticism disintegrating as a result. He arrived in Paris ranked 297th with a 4-17 record since the beginning of 2021.
Yet on a court that has inspired him throughout his career, for a short period he shone. Tsonga was bold and dynamic in the opening set, edging it out on a tiebreak. After Ruud inserted himself into the match and slowly began to move away, Tsonga found a second wind deep in the fourth set, producing a faultless return game at 5-5 in the fourth set to break.
Just as it seemed that Tsonga was heading for a dramatic fifth set, however, he began to struggle with a shoulder injury as he served out the set. He could not properly serve or strike forehands, and as everything fell apart he struck his own head and began to cry. No longer able to compete, Tsonga lost 11 of the final 12 points of his career. Tsonga embraced Ruud at the net, then he discarded his racket, returned to the centre of Court Philippe Chatrier and kissed the thick clay one last time.
A large group of some of the most important people on Tsonga's journey were then brought on to the court, from his parents and wife to his charismatic group of contemporaries: Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet.
Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray provided video messages for him, then Tsonga closed off the emotional ceremony with a long, heartfelt speech.
“I wanted to show resilience from a young age,” he said. “I’m going to stay the person I am, and stay active, and do that as well as I can. I’ve had fabulous days and some that have not been so good. I’m a French player, I’m a Swiss player, I’m a Congolese player, I’m a black player, I’m a white player.
“I’m now standing in front of you without my racket along with my best friends of 30 years. Thank you Noura for being alongside me. My family are now my priority. Thank you tennis. I love you.”
Tsonga departs having built a wonderful career defined by his athleticism, his delicate touch at the net and his instincts alike. A Grand Slam finalist, a Masters 1000 champion and a perennial top-10 player at his best, he is the most successful French male tennis player since Yannick Noah. He had the brutal misfortune of peaking at the same time as Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.
Alongside his countryman and close friend Monfils, for a long time he was one of the few male black players in contention at the very top of his sport. Along with his charisma, it made him an idol for so many, such as Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was present at the stadium as Tsonga battled.
Tsonga’s career is not quite over. He will play doubles one final time with Gasquet in Paris, who made the request to Tsonga himself: “I’m part of his history, he’s part of mine,” said Gasquet.
Earlier in the day, the second seed, Daniil Medvedev, won his first match since undergoing hernia surgery in April, reaching the second round with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 win over Facundo Bagnis of Argentina. – Guardian
Day three results
Men’s singles first round
Alex Molcan (Svk) bt Federico Coria (Arg) 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-3, (27) Sebastian Korda (USA) bt John Millman (Aus) 6-1 7-5 7-6 (8-6), Richard Gasquet (Fra) bt Lloyd George Harris (Rsa) 6-1 6-3 6-4, (8) Casper Ruud (Nor) bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-6 (7-0), Emil Ruusuvuori (Fin) bt Ugo Humbert (Fra) 6-2 2-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-2, Joao Sousa (Por) bt Chun Hsin Tseng (Tpe) 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4, (32) Lorenzo Sonego (Ita) bt Peter Gojowczyk (Ger) 6-2 6-2 6-1, (24) Frances Tiafoe (USA) bt Benjamin Bonzi (Fra) 7-5 7-5 7-6 (7-5), David Goffin (Bel) bt Jiri Lehecka (Cze) 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-4, Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune (Den) bt (14) Denis Shapovalov (Can) 6-3 6-1 7-6 (7-4), Henri Laaksonen (Swi) bt Pedro Martinez Portero (Esp) 2-6 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-1), (7) Andrey Rublev (Rus) bt Soon Woo Kwon (Kor) 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 6-4, Federico Delbonis (Arg) bt Adrian Mannarino (Fra) 6-1 7-6 (7-1) 6-2, Ilya Ivashka (Blr) bt Benoit Paire (Fra) 6-3 7-5 1-6 7-5, Christian Garin (Chi) bt (30) Tommy Paul (USA) 5-7 6-1 6-2 6-3, Alexander Bublik (Kaz) bt Arthur Rinderknech (Fra) 6-2 6-4 6-4, Laslo Djere (Ser) bt Ricardas Berankis (Lit) 6-4 6-4 6-4, (2) Daniil Medvedev (Rus) bt Facundo Bagnis (Arg) 6-2 6-2 6-2
Women’s singles first round
Alize Cornet (Fra) bt Misaki Doi (Jpn) 6-2 6-0, (13) Jelena Ostapenko (Lat) bt Lucia Bronzetti (Ita) 6-1 6-4, (11) Jessica Pegula (USA) bt Qiang Wang (Chn) 6-2 6-4, Anhelina Kalinina (Ukr) bt Hailey Baptiste (USA) 5-2 ret, Mayar Sherif (Egy) bt Marta Kostyuk (Ukr) 6-3 7-5, (24) Tamara Zidansek (Slo) bt Claire Liu (USA) 6-2 6-2, (30) Ekaterina Alexandrova (Rus) bt Greet Minnen (Bel) 7-5 6-3, Irina-Camelia Begu (Rom) bt Jasmine Paolini (Ita) 4-6 6-1 7-6 (10-5), (8) Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Tessah Andrianjafitrimo (Fra) 2-6 6-3 6-1, (3) Paula Badosa Gibert (Esp) bt Fiona Ferro (Fra) 6-2 6-0, Aleksandra Krunic (Ser) bt Kamilla Rakhimova (Rus) 6-4 6-3, (22) Madison Keys (USA) bt Anna Kalinskaya (Rus) 6-3 3-6 6-4, Caroline Garcia (Fra) bt Taylor Townsend (USA) 6-3 6-4, Katie Volynets (USA) bt Viktorija Golubic (Swi) 6-2 2-6 6-1, (16) Elena Rybakina (Kaz) bt Arantxa Rus (Ned) 6-1 5-7 6-2, (9) Danielle Collins (USA) bt Viktoriya Tomova (Bul) 6-0 6-4, Shelby Rogers (USA) bt Tereza Martincova (Cze) 6-4 6-3, Yulia Putintseva (Kaz) bt Irina Bara (Rom) 6-3 6-1.