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French Open: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ends career as French tennis looks to plant seeds

11th-seeded Jessica Pegula, one of two American women in the top 15 seeds at Roland Garros, got her 2022 French Open off to a strong start, dispatching China's Wang Qiang 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round.

There are no French singles seeds at the French Open for the first time in 42 years.

And now there is no more Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a leading French player for years who lost in the first round of his farewell tournament. Casper Ruud, the No. 8 seed from Norway, took out the 37-year-old 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (0).

“The way the crowd support me today, they give me the power to fight, and that’s what I did,” said Tsonga, who announced before Roland Garros that he will retire. “It was emotional for me. It’s going to stay a good moment in my head. In a way I finish like I want to finish.”

Tsonga injured his right shoulder on an otherwise climactic point, breaking Ruud’s serve to go up 6-5 in the fourth. The crowd, unaware of the injury’s extent, serenaded Court Philippe Chatrier with “La Marseillaise” before Tsonga would serve to force a fifth set.

But that broad shoulder, which helped carry Tsonga to No. 5 in the world a decade ago, could not bear any more. Tsonga dropped 11 of the next 12 points, with a medical timeout sandwiched in, to lose the match.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

“There would have been no second match, because I left everything on the court today,” said Tsonga, who last week said his mind and body were telling him it’s time to stop playing. He said after the match the shoulder was so compromised that he could not carry his 10-month-old son.

It has been 39 years since the last Frenchman won Roland Garros (Yannick Noah). It has been 22 years since the last Frenchwoman won Roland Garros (Mary Pierce).

It looks like those droughts will extend several more years.

Gael Monfils, a 35-year-old out with a right foot injury, is the lone French man or woman ranked higher than No. 40 in the world. He’s No. 22. Most of the other French players ranked in the top 100 are veterans who had their chances to make deep major runs.

Tsonga made the second week of at least one major for 11 consecutive years. He is the lone Frenchman to make a major final in the last 21 years. He played for the 2008 Australian Open title, becoming the first of nine players to lose to Novak Djokovic in a final in Melbourne.

Tsonga was 22, just two years older than Djokovic. It appeared he would get more bites at the apple. L’Equipe believed so in a front-page headline.

“I was a fighter,” said Tsonga, who shed soccer to focus on tennis after watching France win the 1996 Davis Cup on TV. “I was also somebody human.”

Tsonga reached five more major semifinals, and nine other quarterfinals, but couldn’t break into the elite of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray. He is one of three men to beat all four at a major. He also lost to them 17 times combined at the Slams.

Others can sympathize. Including the rest of the New Musketeers, the quartet of mid-1980s babies who were supposed to resurrect French men’s tennis and certainly carried it for the last 15 years.

Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Tsonga and Monfils all had their moments, and once more on court together in Tuesday’s retirement ceremony.

“I finally managed to cry,” said Tsonga, who received a trophy that represents a cross-section of Court Philippe Chatrier. “When I watch the images again afterwards I will be very moved.”

Tsonga and Gasquet were on France’s Davis Cup champion team in 2017. None of the four ever lifted a major individual trophy in the most top-heavy era in men’s tennis history, but they all reached the top seven in the world rankings.

“With Richard, with others, we have known each other since we were 11 years old, 12 years old,” Tsonga said. “We grew up together. We won together. These are the most beautiful stories.”

And now Tsonga is retired. Simon said this is his final season. Monfils, soon to be a father, has been up and down the last several years.

Gasquet won Tuesday, setting up a second round match with American Seb Korda, who is 14 years younger. If Gasquet upsets the American, he would play Friday on the 20th anniversary of his French Open main draw debut, when he took a set off eventual champion Albert Costa of Spain.

It was the first Grand Slam main draw match of the Four Musketeers era. If not a golden generation, it proved to be an unforgettable one, with another memory added Tuesday.

“We need more players to come,” Gasquet said after losing in the second round to Nadal at last year’s French Open. “Of course we are a great generation. I hope it will be the same for the French future.”

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