living the dream

Linda Moreotsene

Linda Moreotsene

On the third day of the South African Tennis Open at Montecasino, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga sat before reporters fielding questions, the Frenchman won healthy respect from members of the media when he was blindsided by a question.

A woman pounced. She wanted to know what the Frenchman thought about the controversy caused by BBC reporter Carol Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's daughter, who had called him a "golliwog".

Tsonga - the winner of the South African Open - responded with a cool "no comment", winning himself admirers for refusing to entertain the whole ugly mess.

He exploded onto the scene last year when he made the finals of the Australian Open, having beaten world No 2 Rafael Nadal by three sets on the way, but lost the final to Novak Djokovic.

The son of a French mother and Congolese father, Tsonga found himself mobbed everywhere he went in Johannesburg, which was fitting since he had proudly claimed his African heritage, proclaiming that "I have African blood" despite being born and bred in Le Mans, France 23 years ago.

Linda Moreotsene: It is obvious what your being meant for tennis here, what are you taking back with you?

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: I have my memories - I went on safari and saw lions for the first time. I think most of it I cannot put into words at the moment, but there were a lot of things that touched me.

LM: What about your game? You were having problems with your back at the Australian Open.

JT: My game has gotten better as the week has progressed. After I was knocked out of the Australian Open I spent three days in bed to recover.

LM: Are you living your dream?

JT: I am, although I try to keep dreaming. I am always looking at the future - you cannot live in the past. Some of my dreams for this year include breaking into the top five, winning at least one grand slam title and to keep focusing on the ultimate - the number one spot.

LM: What can you tell us about Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal's rivalry?

JT: I wouldn't say it is confined to just the two of them - any of the four guys behind them has the potential to win a grand slam.

LM: The key to beating Nadal?

JT: It will be really difficult to do that, but you don't have to try too hard. It is, after all a mental game more than anything.

LM: Is it easier to play low ranked guys as opposed to the top seeds?

JT: For me it is the same. I always approach matches the same way. I focus on myself and just play my own game. I think I play an offensive game.

LM: The supporters can't get enough of you. Has it been a surprise to you how much they love you?

JT: I think we have a special connection. They have been very nice with me. To be honest, I am always surprised when somebody cheers for me. I have not gotten used to it yet - maybe in two or three years, but right now it shocks me.

LM: What do you do to wind down after a high-intensity match?

JT: I go on the computer and talk to friends and family.

LM: Does tennis dominate your life?

JT: I would say its 50/50.

LM: Who is your favourite player, past and present.

JT: Right now it's myself (smiling) and past has to be Pat Rafter.

LM: Your toughest opponent and why?

JT: Roger. He is also very offensive and very fast.

LM: Can you identify with his tears when he lost the Australian Open final?

JT: Of course I can! When you give everything physically to something and fail, it is very difficult to hide your emotions.

LM: Would you come back here?

JT: I think the players that did well will. I won, so I will definitely come back. It is the same with every tournament.