Dubai: World No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga believes 2014 could be the year he finally breaks his Grand Slam duck, having recovered from a niggling knee injury and after employing new coaching staff.
Talking to reporters in Dubai ahead of the 2013 Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC), which gets under way in Abu Dhabi this Thursday, the Frenchman said: “I’ve been playing for four weeks now on my knee and I changed my staff, so I have a new team with me.
“I’m sure I will be a better player than last year. The goal is the first major, and I’m very confident of achieving that,” he said.
The 28-year-old French tennis ace fell from eighth in the ATP world rankings to 10th after hobbling out of Wimbledon — where he reached the semi-finals in 2012 — earlier this year and subsequently withdrawing from the US Open major with an old tendon problem in his left knee.
Tsonga’s appearance at the MWTC in Abu Dhabi will mark his return to top-flight tennis in earnest since pulling out of his second round match at SW19 in August.
The hard-hitting Frenchman competed in the Japan Open — where he was the reigning champion — in October, but hadn’t fully recovered from the knee affliction and was playing with “one and a half legs,” as he told press at the time. He crashed out in the second round to Croatian Ivan Dodig.
Weeks after the Japanese calamity, Tsonga appointed compatriots Nicolas Escude and Thierry Ascione as his new coaching duo, having reached fifth in the ATP rankings — his highest-ever world ranking — under former coach Roger Rasheed.
Commenting on the new appointments, Tsonga said: “I really believed that it will be positive for me. I will not explain why exactly because we all have our reasons, but the thing is, with my new team, I really believe.”
Asked whether attaining world number one status in an era dominated by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and latterly Novak Djokovic, is a realistic notion, Tsonga responded: “Of course. I believe it. It’s the goal of every guy in the top 10 — you just want to be the best.”
The Frenchman even went as far as saying that a maiden Grand Slam would be more exciting for him than another major title would be for the top four.
“Roger [Federer] now — I don’t know what he’d dream about. I dream about my first major, he’s got already 17, so what does he dream about? Or even Rafa [Nadal] or Novak [Djokovic]. They win everything. But for me it’s even more exciting than for them because I [haven’t won] a major,” he said.
And he sees the MWTC this month as the perfect starting-point to get his season of dreams under way before the Grand Slam slalom begins in Melbourne.
“It’s important to play some real matches before the Australian [Open] and [six of] the top ten are here [at the MWTC] and there is no better practice,” he said.
Tsonga has been drawn against world number three and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in his first match on December 26. Murray, too, is recovering from a long-term injury and this lends their match an aura of exciting unpredictability, the Frenchmen says.
“No one can predict [what will happen],” he said in response to how he sees the match-up going. “I don’t have any pain on my knee, so I’m sure I will play better than I did last [time]. Andy didn’t play for a while, so it will be interesting to see how the match goes.”