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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 June 2007, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
The Muhammad Ali of tennis
By Sarah Holt
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga is ranked at the world number 110

The players on the men's tour call Jo-Wilfried Tsonga the Muhammad Ali of tennis, and when he ambles over to shake hands it is easy to see why.

Standing at over six feet tall, weighing in at 14 stone and with a beaming lop-sided grin, the Frenchman bears a striking resemblance to the boxing legend.

"Ali is one of my heroes," the 22-year-old told BBC Sport in Ali-style hushed tones.

"I liked him for his personality so I'm happy to be compared to him - it's an honour."

Despite the illustrious comparisons, Tsonga is a bit of an unknown outside tennis circles.

Hampered by back, shoulder and knee injuries for the last two years, the former world junior number two is only just beginning to make an impact at a senior level - but it's some impact.

After winning the Surbiton Challenger title earlier this month, Tsonga qualified for Queen's where he dumped former champion Lleyton Hewitt out in straight sets.

606: DEBATE

That feat earned him a wildcard for Wimbledon, and a rather generous 250 gift from Queen's Club for being the qualifier who impressed the most.

Now, Tsonga has trumped all that by reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon - his best-ever Grand Slam result.

The Frenchman remains unfazed by his sudden success.

"I'm not surprised," said Tsonga, the world number 110.

"It has taken me a long time to recover from my injuries but I've been playing well in the past few months and won (four) Challengers. Now I'm here."

Every match is a new one and is different but every day I come with another goal

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Tsonga grew up with fellow French young gun Gael Monfils, and the pair of them would spend hours trying to get a serve just like Andy Roddick's.

All that hard work seems to be paying off as Tsonga has made his huge serve his biggest weapon.

In his second-round victory over Nicolas Lapentti, he won a whopping 86% of points on his first serve.

That kind of firepower, coupled with his taste for attacking tennis, mean Tsonga has got the game for Wimbledon.

"My serve works well on the grass," said the wildcard. "I serve hard and I enjoy it.

"I like playing at Wimbledon as you have to go to the net and you can do just about everything on grass."

The Frenchman has now reached the last 16 after sweeping past Tim Henman's conqueror Feliciano Lopez, and next up is hitting partner and compatriot Richard Gasquet.

SPORT EDITORS' BLOG
TV tennis editor Paul Davies
But, just like Ali, Tsonga is fearless.

"Whether I play Hewitt, Lapentti or any other guy I just want to beat him," he said. "The confidence I have in myself is one of my strengths.

"Every match is a new one and is different but every day I come with another goal.

"I'm very happy. This is my first time at Wimbledon and I've got my first-ever Grand Slam win. Now I'll try to go on."

Maybe Roger Federer should watch his back, with fighting talk like that Tsonga could just be on his way to becoming 'The Champ' on grass.



SEE ALSO
Champ Hewitt shocked at Queen's
13 Jun 07 |  Tennis


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