PARIS (Reuters) - Roger Federer calls Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a “great friend” but received no mercy from the Frenchman who swept him aside in devastating fashion on Tuesday to boost hopes of a first home men’s winner at Roland Garros since 1983.
An inspired Tsonga played like a man on a mission and Federer simply could not live with him, slumping to a chastening 7-5 6-3 6-3 French Open quarter-final defeat in front of a spellbound crowd on a sun-drenched Philippe Chatrier court.
Serena Williams has been on a mission ever since taking to the park courts in Compton and the 31-year-old moved a step closer to a 16th major singles title, which would be one behind Federer, as she beat Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1 3-6 6-3.
The American top seed, who snapped a run of four successive quarter-final defeats here since she won the title in 2002, will face diminutive Italian Sara Errani in the semi-finals.
Fifth seed Errani continued to prove that last year’s final appearance in Paris was no flash in the pan as she edged past Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4 7-6 (6) in what was her first career win against a player ranked in the top four.
In Tuesday’s other men’s quarter-final, Tommy Robredo ran out of escape routes as he was overwhelmed by fourth seed David Ferrer 6-2 6-1 6-1 in an all-Spanish affair.
Tsonga has been part of the pack chasing the elite top-four of men’s tennis ever since bursting through to reach the 2008 Australian Open final where he lost to Novak Djokovic. But he had never gone beyond the last eight in Paris.
When Federer wafted a backhand long on match point, the crowd erupted and Tsonga set off on his trademark celebratory leap, the tantalizing prospect of the 28-year-old going on to emulate Yannick Noah became the talk of the town.
Federer has suffered at the hands of Tsonga before, notably at Wimbledon in 2011 when the Frenchman, who has a passing resemblance to boxing great Muhammad Ali, bounced off the ropes to beat the Swiss great from two sets down.
That had been a real toe-to-toe contest but this time Federer trudged off well-beaten, waving to the crowd and knowing his last chance of a second French Open title may have gone.
“I’m pretty sad about the match and the way I played,” Federer, one of four players aged 30 or over to reach the last eight here this year, told reporters.
“Jo-Willy played great today. He was better than me in all areas today. He returned better than I did, served better than I did. I struggled to find my rhythm.”
Tsonga, despite his dazzling brilliance on Tuesday, will have to reach a similar level against Ferrer to become the first Frenchman to reach the final here since Henri Leconte in 1988.
Ferrer showed why he is second in command in Spain’s claycourt army behind Rafa Nadal by thrashing iron-man Robredo who had recovered two-set deficits in his previous three rounds.
The 31-year-old Ferrer, seeded four this year, has marched through the draw without dropping a set, although neither has Tsonga so something will have to give on Thursday.
“He beat Roger playing beautiful tennis,” Ferrer, who has a 0-14 career record against Federer but leads Tsonga 2-1, said.
“Winning in three sets against Federer is something which is usually very difficult to do.”
Federer beat Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Gilles Simon in rounds three and four and when he jumped into a 4-2 lead on Tuesday he looked like making it a hat-trick.
However, Tsonga had something up his sleeve, telling reporters afterwards that his coach Roger Rasheed had instructed him to go out and play like Nadal.
“I had a long discussion with Roger, and before the match we tried to see how Roger Federer plays on the clay,” Tsonga said.
“Also the way Rafa is always able to make him play the wrong way. Then I tried to do the same. Today it worked.”
Federer’s day reached a low point in the seventh game of the third set when he made a hash of a routine smash and was then struck on the back as Tsonga claimed a decisive break of serve.
Despite a below-par performance from the 2009 champion, Federer was full of praise for Tsonga.
“I had a good preparation and I have been playing good tennis here, so give some credit to the old Jo‑Willy Tsonga, please, “ he said. “For (the fans) I hope he can do it.”
Williams, yet another of the 30s brigade in quarter-final action here, proved she is fallible with a mid-match crisis against Kuznetsova, but she underlined her rapacious appetite for grand slam silverware with a storming finish.
She had dropped only 10 games to reach the last eight and had been 100 percent reliable on serve but when Kuznetsova broke twice to take the second set and again to lead 2-0 in the third the American was heading for a fifth consecutive defeat in the quarter-finals since her sole title here in 2002.
“Definitely, I just got tired of losing in the quarters. It’s enough,” said Williams, who lost to Kuznetsova in 2009 when the Russian won the title. “I really, really, really, really wanted it more than anyone.”
The old survival instincts kicked in when she saved three “double break” points in a strung-out third set and that proved crucial as world number one Williams switched on the after burners and surged away to a 29th consecutive victory.
Errani, beaten by Maria Sharapova in last year’s final, is one of the WTA Tour’s workaholics having taken her season’s total of singles and doubles matches to 82 on Tuesday.
She faces a busy schedule over the coming days as she is also partnering Roberta Vinci in the doubles.
With a 0-5 losing record against Williams to overcome, keeping her mind occupied might not be such a bad idea.
The remaining quarter-finals are on Wednesday when men’s top seed Djokovic faces Tommy Haas and Rafa Nadal meets Stanislas Wawrinka, while women’s number two seed Maria Sharapova tackles Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka plays Maria Kirilenko.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing Sonia Oxley and Ken Ferris