By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga arrived at this year’s Miami Open looking like a slimmer version of his former self. Despite looking svelte, Tsonga said Monday that he hasn’t lost any weight recently.
“But I have worked a lot, so I hope I’m a little bit fitter to play better tennis,” said Tsonga, who will make his season debut here at the Crandon Park Tennis Center as a No. 11 seed. “I kept my power. I will always play with that because it is one of my big qualities. But either way, I have to run because [the world’s top players] run a lot, and I have to be fit to compete with them.”
Tsonga said he has focused on his fitness while sitting out the past three months due to an injury to his right forearm. He didn’t pick up a racket for more than two months before starting to hit three weeks ago, he said.
Of his time off, Tsonga said, “You don’t travel anymore like before, so you have time to fix many things in practice. That was the good thing. The bad thing is you lose points and you don’t have the ranking you deserve. It’s a lot of frustration, but I’m happy to be back.”
Tsonga, a 29-year-old French native nicknamed “Ali” because of facial resemblance to the boxer, enters the Miami Open ranked No. 13 in the world – eight spots lower than his career-high in February 2012.
He gained fame at the 2008 Australian Open by reaching this final as an unseeded player while beating four seeded players, including Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.
The high-profile Miami Open isn’t an easy tournament for Tsonga to start off with following a long layoff, but he embraces the challenge.
“Of course this is a big tournament,” Tsonga said. “But last summer also I didn’t play for a few weeks and I came back for [ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in] Toronto and won it. I will just try to play my best tennis, do what I did in practice.”
Tsonga will play his opening match against American Tim Smyczek during the Friday night session. Smyczek went the distance against qualifier Adrian Menendez-Maceiras on Wednesday, beating him 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. The No. 11 seed Tsonga will pose the first strong test for the young American.