At the Net: Tsonga benefiting from coach Rasheed

10:47 AM, Jan 21, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - "No room at the inn" is a quote that would apply when talking about the "Big Four" in men's tennis, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has not given up hope on reaching that elite club.

Crediting hard work over the last few months, the 27-year-old Tsonga has moved into his fourth Australian Open quarterfinal in six years and appears to be finding new motivation with top-flight coach Roger Rasheed, whom he employed starting back in October.

Tonga, who climbed to a career-high fifth in the world last February, revealed he is benefiting from the motivational energy emitted by his new Aussie mentor, Rasheed, who has coached the likes of fellow Aussie and former world No. 1 star Lleyton Hewitt and oft-injured but ultra-talented Gael Monfils, a French compatriot of Jo-Willy's.

"He's giving me extra motivation. It's great because he's always positive," Tsonga said of Rasheed. "He wants maybe more than me to win. He's incredible.

"I try to be at his level and have exactly the same motivation because I think he can move some mountains," joked the strapping 6-foot-2, 200-pound Le Mans native.

Note: The 43-year-old Rasheed is a former Australian rules football player as well as a former tennis player.

The currently eighth-ranked Tsonga reached his lone Grand Slam final in 2008, losing to current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets. And in the process, the flashy star took out a trio of top-10 players en route to the final, including 11-time major champ Rafael Nadal in the semis.

Tsonga's best rivalry on the tour happens to be with Djokovic. They've met 14 times, with the Serb winning nine of the meetings, including a 3-1 record for Djokovic at the Slams.

In addition to his typical fine play in Melbourne, Tsonga is also a two-time Wimbledon semifinalist (each of the last two years), a former U.S. Open quarterfinalist, and reached the quarters at the French Open for the first time last year. He also reached a final at the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals in London in 2011 and the quarters at last year's London Olympic Games.

"I'm practicing well," Tsonga said. "When you work hard and you're focused on what you're doing, I mean, you are obliged to improve again. Even if it takes time, for sure I will improve my game."

Tsonga's big game features a potent serve, a heavy forehand and exceptional touch at the net. You would categorize him as an offensive baseliner, but he's also able to mix his style by rushing the net, with very good results.

Jo-Willy is also one of the few remaining players to utilize serve-and- volley tactics ... but he's struggled to play consistently at important moments.

A seventh-seeded Tsonga is set to face the legendary Roger Federer in the Aussie quarters on Wednesday, and a nice upset would give him his fourth career victory against the Swiss master, who holds an 8-3 series advantage. The flashy Frenchman hasn't beaten the Fed since 2001, as the Swiss great has won their last four encounters, all at sexy tour events (the Tour Finals, the Paris Masters and the U.S. Open).

Note: When Tsonga beat fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the Aussie fourth round this week, it marked the first time in the Open Era that two Frenchmen ranked in the top 10 played each other at a Slam.

Could Tsonga be knockin' on the Grand Slam door? Rasheed's workin' on it.

The Sports Network

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