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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tennis: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga into Australian Open 4th round


JOCELYN GECKER
Associated Press Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a victory dance he reserves for the Australian Open. He even demonstrated it twice today.

The routine is pretty simple, yet a crowd-pleaser: he skips across the court with his arms in a flexed-biceps pose and points his thumbs at his head.

He did it after beating Tommy Haas of Germany 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 to advance to the fourth round in Melbourne. And again minutes later when former tennis star-turned-commentator Jim Courier walked on-court to congratulate Tsonga and asked him to, please, do it one more time.

So he did, in slow motion and with a big smile.

The 24-year-old charismatic French player is a showman. He rallies the crowd for cheers and hops, skips and jumps around the court to pump up the energy of a packed stadium.

"It's better to play in front of 10,000 people than two people," said Tsonga who played in front of closer to 15,000 people Saturday. "I enjoy every moment, every match, every point I play on this court."

Tsonga first did the dance two years ago in Melbourne Park on his surprising run to the 2008 final, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.

"It's something I did the first time (two) years ago," he told Courier, who drew laughs by attempting an impersonation of the dance. "The crowd liked that. And every time I'm obliged to do it."

Back in 2008, Tsonga was hailed as the upset king who toppled four top seeded players on his way to the final, including Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

This year Tsonga is the 10th-seeded player and the highest-ranked French player on the tour. He is soft-spoken and articulate in his native French and does not lack for confidence.

"I think I will be dangerous," Tsonga said matter-of-factly. "I didn't play by best tennis and I still won."

"I know I can go all the way," said Tsonga, who finished in the year-end top 10 for the second consecutive year, becoming the only Frenchman to do so since Yannick Noah in 1985-1987.

Tsonga served 20 aces in Saturday's 2-hour, 28-minute match against Haas.

"When he's on and he serves well ... he can be very tough. He's a great athlete," said Haas, the No. 18 seed who sought treatment during the match for a back problem. "I have some issues there. I definitely have to look into it."

Haas is 31 years and 9 months old, making him the oldest of the 33 seeds in the men's draw.

Tsonga will face No. 26-seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain in the fourth round. Tsonga is hoping to maintain what has become a Grand Slam tradition for him.

"Until now, I've never played a match in five sets," said Tsonga who has played 10 previous Grand Slams.

"Maybe one day, I'll do it intentionally," he joked. "I'd like to live it. It would be a good experience. But if I can avoid it for the moment I'd like to win in less than five sets."