A DEJECTED Roger Federer conceded he was well beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as the Frenchman kept alive hopes of a home victory at Roland Garros.
Not since Yannick Noah 30 years ago has a home player lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires, but Tsonga showed he will be a tough man to beat with a thumping 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Federer to reach his first semi-final at Roland Garros.
The second seed began the stronger and was an early break up but he was pegged back to 4-4 and from there Tsonga was in control.
Federer saved three set points, one with a superb backhand pass at full stretch, but there was more of the bad than the good from the Swiss yesterday and a shank gave the set to his opponent.
Tsonga has always been capable of brilliance but he and coach Roger Rasheed appear to have added consistency to his game and he was simply too good for Federer.
The 31-year-old said: “This is obviously a crushing loss. I struggled a little bit everywhere. Personally, I’m pretty sad about the match and the way I played.
“Jo-Willy played great today. He was better than me in all areas today. He returned better than I did, served better than I did. I struggled to find my rhythm. That’s why the result was pretty clean.
“I tried to figure things out, but it was difficult. And Jo does a good job keeping the pressure on.
“He can serve his way out of trouble at times.
“He returned better than I did, served better than I did. I struggled to find my rhythm.
“I should have never got broken at 4-3, 40-15. In hindsight now that’s obviously a huge game for me, and things didn’t go well for me today.
“Like after any other type of defeat, I’m disappointed. Perhaps more disappointed than in the past.”
In the semi-finals Tsonga will meet fourth seed David Ferrer, the only other man in the tournament who has not dropped a set, after he ended the run of Tommy Robredo with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 thrashing.
Federer’s defeat, meanwhile, means it will be the first time since Rafael Nadal played Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon three years ago that a grand slam final has been contested by a player outside the big four.
The Swiss did not want to be drawn on whether such variety is good for the game, saying: “I’d be happy if it would be either David or Jo (in the final).
“Both deserve it. Both train hard. Both play great. They played the best in our section of the draw, so they deserve to be in the semis.
“At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. If it’s refreshing or not, we’ll see at the end who wins the tournament.”
Tsonga was very close to reaching the semi-finals here last year when he held match points against Novak Djokovic but could not take them.
Two years ago he beat Federer at the same stage at Wimbledon, coming from two sets down on that occasion, but he rated yesterday’s win as among the best of his career.
The Frenchman said: “For sure, it’s going to be at the top because it’s here at Roland Garros, in France, on a big court with a lot of people, middle of the afternoon, and I just beat Roger Federer.
“I was waiting for rewards because I’m practising hard every day.
“And today I got the reward.”
The most important thing for Tsonga now, though, is to try to ensure today’s victory is not the highlight of his tournament, as has been the case with big wins in the past.
He said: “I have much more experience today. I know about being too happy about that kind of match. It’s good, but it takes away a lot of energy from you.
“Right now what I need to do is to keep focused on what I have to do. The important thing for me is to go further.”
The Frenchman will allow himself some bubbles, however, adding: “It’s the same as when you go on a diet. You can’t live without any pleasure at all. So maybe tonight I’ll indulge myself in having some sparkling water.”
Ferrer has now matched former British No 1 Tim Henman’s record of six grand slam semi-finals without ever having made a final – and he has never had a better chance to go all the way.
The Spaniard has lost only 36 games in five matches, and he said: “If I pull through it’s going to be my first final in a grand slam, but it’s one match I have to play.
“I’m not going to start dreaming and celebrate before it’s time. It’s one match. That’s it.”
Robredo has had a remarkable run, matching an 86-year-old grand slam record by coming from two sets down in his previous three matches, but that left the 31-year-old without the energy to mount a real challenge yesterday.