Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hadn’t yet lost to Roger Federer in their 2011 Wimbledon quarter-final, but it appeared inevitable after he dropped the first two sets. The Swiss had never lost from two sets up in his 255 career Grand Slam matches.
But on the back of what arguably remains Tsonga’s best display of serving, he did the unthinkable. Landing well over 70 per cent of his first serves and only offering Federer a single break point throughout their lengthy clash, he fought back to unseat the six-time Wimbledon champion 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
“I served unbelievably. I’m the kind of player who likes these big moments, so I hope I will have some more,” Tsonga said afterwards. I felt so good on the court. I was quick. I was just perfect today. It was feeling like a dream.”
The Frenchman’s runner-up showing at the 2008 Australian Open already proved that he could deliver his best tennis at the world’s biggest events. Inconsistency and injuries prevented him from building on that breakthrough run, but the 26-year-old remained a player that no one wanted to face. Tsonga’s attacking style is perfectly suited for grass and he felt emboldened by his decision that May to split with longtime coach Eric Winogradsky, opting for more ownership of his career.
After dropping his opening service game against Federer and trailing 0-3 after seven minutes, Tsonga settled in and found his range. But while the Frenchman continued to comfortably hold serve, he was unable to assert himself in their baseline rallies.
With little to lose after falling behind two sets, Tsonga charged the net whenever possible and attempted to hit winners from unlikely positions at the baseline. His bold gambles paid dividends as he cracked 63 winners to just 22 unforced errors on the day, with most of the winner tally coming in the final three sets.
After another strong serve on match point led to Federer hitting a return long, Tsonga dropped to the ground in celebration. Federer graciously tipped his hat to the Frenchman afterwards and acknowledged there was little he could do against an opponent playing so well.
“He believed in shots that maybe you don’t hit as often. But exactly when he needed them, he was able to pull them off,” Federer said. “When it got important, he went for it. It all worked out for him today.”
Although Tsonga fell in the semi-finals to Novak Djokovic, his inspired run at the All England Club spurred him on to an outstanding second half of 2011. He picked up a pair of titles in Metz and Vienna and finished runner-up at the Rolex Paris Masters to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, where he defeated Rafael Nadal en route to the championship match.
Federer would get his revenge that year, though. Although he fell to Tsonga again at the Coupe Rogers, the Swiss rebounded to defeat his rival four times in a two-month period. He dominated Tsonga in their US Open quarter-final clash, then scored another straight-sets victory in Paris before twice defeating the Frenchman at The O2, prevailing in round-robin play and an entertaining three-set final.