PARIS, June 4 (Reuters) - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who only just failed to beat Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros last year, held his nerve on Tuesday to humble Roger Federer and carry the hopes of a nation into the French Open last four.
Sixth seed Tsonga, who will take on Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer, is bidding to become the first Frenchman in the Paris final since Henri Leconte in 1988.
No Frenchman has won the home grand slam title, let alone a major, since Yannick Noah prevailed in 1983 at Roland Garros.
The pressure in Paris has accounted for a succession of French hopes.
Amelie Mauresmo, a double grand slam champion, never went past the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
Richard Gasquet, once dubbed the ‘Mozart of tennis’, again threw away a two-set lead in the fourth round against Stanislas Wawrinka on Monday.
On Sunday, Gilles Simon came close to beating Federer in the fourth round, but the 15th seed lost after opening a 2-1 set lead.
Tsonga suffers occasionally from nerves, squandering four match points before bowing out against Djokovic in their quarter-final clash at the French Open last year.
But he is also the last Frenchman to reach a grand slam final and the last male French player with a Masters title to his name, having played in the 2008 Australian Open final and winning the Paris Bercy title the same year.
“Unfortunately, I can’t really enjoy (my victory). I can’t celebrate. Of course it’s very good because I did that, but the tournament keeps going,” Tsonga said.
“When you beat Federer in the semis, of course you think you can go a lot further.”
Tsonga is also ready to listen to advice from Noah, the former champion turned singer who knows a thing or two about winning Roland Garros.
“Well, when he sings I dance. When he says something to me I listen to him. I listen carefully to what he has to say,” said Tsonga, who believes he has matured since his 2008 breakthrough.
“I think lately I have been making the right choices. I made the choice of being alone. I decided to practise alone because it was a challenge for me to see how much I love tennis,” he explained.
In April 2011, Tsonga parted company with long-time coach Eric Winogradsky, deciding to train alone, a decision he says helped him confirm he was playing tennis for himself.
“I was making sure I was not trying just to respond to other people’s expectations and that I really wanted it myself. I realized that I just loved tennis, that it was something extraordinary, that I would really want to do that,” he said.
“And after a while I realised it was tough staying alone because, of course, there is the game itself. But there are many other things you have to manage as a tennis player. You have to be on time for practising every day. You have to eat correctly. You have to sleep well. You need the life of a champion.”
Tsonga hired Lleyton Hewitt’s former coach Roger Rasheed before last year’s Paris Masters in October 2012.
“It’s always useful to have people around you who can help you doing that,” he said. (Editing by John Mehaffey)