RISING French star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga added another seed to his growing list of scalps at the Australian Open after beating Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets to reach his first grand slam semi-final.
Tsonga, who has already accounted for Scotland’s Andy Murray and countryman Richard Gasquet, beat the 14th-seeded Russian 7-5, 6-0, 7-6 (8/6) to set up a last-four clash with world No2 Rafael Nadal.
“I want to cry, I want to smile, I want everything. There’s a lot of emotion,” said Tsonga, who has never won a tour singles title and came into the tournament ranked 38th in the world but will leave much closer to the top 20.
“I knew it would be a tough match, but I’m playing better than last year and I’m very confident in my game.”
On his approach to the semi-final against the Spaniard, who is yet to drop a set, Tsonga said: “He has two arms and two legs like me, so we will see what happens on court.”
The 22-year-old from Le Mans broke Youzhny in the 12th game of the first set with a backhand cross-court winner. He raced through the second in just 29 minutes, winning it to love, as Youzhny struggled with ankle problems. The third set was much closer as Youzhny forced it into a tiebreaker. The Frenchman saved a set point at 5-6 before claiming victory when Youzhny hit a volley long.
Nadal reached his first grand slam semi-final on a hard court after cruising past Jarkko Nieminen. Nadal, the winner of the last three French Opens and runner-up at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007, reached the last eight in Melbourne last year, but went one better by beating the 24th-seeded Finn 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.
“I am playing and serving well at the important moments,” he said. Nadal has spent just nine hours and 40 minutes on court so far – a fact he thinks will work in his favour at the business end of the tournament.
“I normally spend much longer on court in reaching the semi-finals,” Nadal explained. “I think the longest I have been on court [in a single match in this tournament] is about two-and-a-half hours.”
By way of comparison, Roger Federer, a 12-time grand slam winner and three-time Australian Open champion, spent almost five hours on court in just one match, his five-set victory over Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic in the third round.
Nadal’s only scare came when he saved two set points in the tenth game of the first set on his own serve, and it proved to be the turning point of the match.
The muscular Spaniard then held his serve and broke Nieminen in the next game. He clinched the set and then romped through the next two with ease.
Nadal’s win keeps him on course to become the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open and Nieminen was certainly impressed. “He’s playing great,” said the Finn. “He has weapons to win almost any point and any game.”
RESULTS FROM MELBOURNE
Quarter-finals: J-W Tsonga (Fra) bt (14) M Youzhny (Rus) 7-5 6-0 7-6 (8-6), (2) R Nadal (Spa) bt (24) J Nieminen (Fin) 7-5 6-3 6-1.
Quarter-finals: J Coetzee (Rsa) & W Moodie (Rsa) bt (4) M Damm (Cze) & P Vizner (Cze) 7-5 5-7 6-4, (7) A Clement (Fra) & M Llodra (Fra) bt (2) D Nestor (Can) & N Zimonjic (Ser) 6-4 6-4.
Quarter-finals: (5) M Sharapova (Rus) bt (1) J Henin (Bel) 6-4 6-0, (3) J Jankovic (Ser) bt (7) S Williams (USA) 6-3 6-4.
Third round: (10) AM Garrigues (Spa) & VR Pascual (Spa) bt J Jankovic (Ser) & B Mattek (USA) 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-2.
Quarter-finals: A Bondarenko (Ukr) & K Bondarenko (Ukr) bt (1) C Black (Zim) & L Huber (USA) 6-3 6-2, (12) V Azarenka (Blr) & S Peer (Isr) bt (13) J Husarova (Svk) & F Pennetta (Ita) 6-1 6-1, (7) Z Yan (Chn) & J Zheng (Chn) bt S Williams (USA) & V Williams (USA) 3-6 6-4 6-2.