By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga missed the first three months of the year because of an arm injury, and he has been in catch-up mode ever since.
That’s a big reason why he’s at the Winston-Salem Open this week.
Tsonga is trying to accumulate as many points as possible these days in an effort to climb back up the ATP World Tour rankings, and the 250 points that go to the WSO champion would certainly come in handy.
He’s currently ranked No. 19, far from his career-high No. 5 back in 2012 and out of his standard spot in the Top 10.
“For me it was important to come here,” Tsonga said at a press conference on Monday afternoon. “I didn’t play much since the beginning of the season and it’s really important for me to get points, so I have to play. I only played eight tournaments since the beginning of the year, so it’s a tournament that’s very important for the rest of the season.”
Tsonga is the No. 3 seed in this week’s WSO, and as a result had a first-round bye. He will make his tournament debut on Tuesday night in the feature match on Stadium Court against the winner of Monday’s first-round match between Denis Istomin and Donald Young.
Tsonga is making his second appearance at the WSO. He reached the semifinals in 2012 before losing to eventual champion John Isner in a third-set tie-break.
The 30-year-old Frenchman is coming off an early exit at Cincinnati, where he lost in the first round to Fernando Verdasco. The week before, he reached the quarterfinals at Montreal, but lost points he was defending as the 2014 Canadian champion.
He says he feels fresh and strong this week, and writes off last week as bad luck.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “Last week, as usual, I didn’t play well. I have a problem with Cincinnati. Maybe four or five years in a row I lost first round. I don’t know what for. But now it’s another event here and I’ve played a lot better here in the past, so I hope I will play good tennis.”
The winner of 11 career titles who burst on the scene as the runner-up at the Australian Open in 2008, Tsonga played on despite the arm injury during the latter parts of the 2014 season. But by the start of 2015, the decision was made to shut it down to recover.
His first tournament of the year came in Miami the last week of March.
He went on a great run at Roland Garros, beating Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych en route to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Then came a trip to the third round at Wimbledon and two matches in France’s Davis Cup quarterfinal loss to Great Britain.
“This injury was tough because I was playing really well and I thought I was back at the top level, but after this injury you start from the bottom again and you try to get back the confidence. It’s not easy,” he said.
That’s why Tsonga is intent on playing well here. Some players use this week strictly as preparation for next week’s US Open, but Tsonga wants results.
“I don’t really take this week like preparation,” he said. “I just want to get points. So I really need to play well, and I think I will play good tennis. New York is another week. When you’re not seeded high you have to beat maybe five guys in the top 10 to win a Grand Slam, and it’s very difficult. So I know the most important (thing) for me is to get back in the top 16 or the top eight and it would give me a chance.”