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Thirty Years After Yannick Noah, France's New Reason For Hope At Roland Garros

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga knocked off Roger Federer to advance to the semi-finals of the French Open. Can history repeat itself?

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga revives French hopes of Roland Garros glory
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga revives French hopes of Roland Garros glory
Bruno Lesprit

PARIS – After his quarterfinal win over Roger Federer at the French Open, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hugged Federer and congratulated the Swiss legend. “Thanks for letting me win this time,” Tsonga said.

Then the French top player came back to center of the court to celebrate reaching the French Open semifinals for the first time in his career. He performed his signature victory dance — thumbs pointing to his back while spinning across the court — as the crowd chanted his name “Tsonga! Tsonga!” This battle cry drowned out the shouts of “Roger!,” the other darling of the Parisian spectators at Roland Garros Stadium, and the Swiss flags were quietly put away.

Tsonga's trademark victory dance

Supporters chant Tsonga’s Congolese family name, and why wouldn’t they? “Jo-Wilfried” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. He hopes to hear it up until the final match Sunday. “I don’t know what more to wish for, these days,” Tsonga said after his win. “I play really well. I want to shout, I want to jump around, but I have to stay focused. I really think I can do this.”

The thought of victory is now the most shared fantasy in French sports at the moment, and it might just come true for Tsonga. Because what the man from the northwest city of Le Mans did on the court against Federer showed that he deserves a shot at the first title for a Frenchman since the one captured exactly 30 years ago by tennisman-turned-singer Yannick Noah.

France's Sports Minister Valérie Fourneyron sees in Tsonga “a maturity in technique, an appetite for victory and a determination to write a new page in the book of French tennis history, and for that, he deserves respect.”

He got some advice from Federer himself, who finally won his first title at Roland Garros in 2009. “Jo must keep his aggressive style, he must keep believing that he can do it and let the audience bring him up and hope that everything falls into place.”

Next on tap is David Ferrer, who rolled over his fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo (6-2, 6-1, 6-1) and sent a few shivers down the backs of spectators. Fans quickly realized that the No. 4 player would be a whole new kind of adversary, as Ferrer is the other player besides Tsonga not to have lost a set so far.

Ferrer lost in the semifinals to Rafael Nadal in 2012, but the Valencian said that “having to play against Jo is not better or worse than playing against Rafa. I’ll have to play long, and a lot on his backhand, and I will need to serve better than that.” Tsonga, meanwhile, has described Ferrer as “a very tenacious player who covers a lot of ground,” someone who is very quick. “But I know that I can beat him,” Tsonga said. “I have the means to do that."

Though he resembles a young Muhammed Ali, people compare this year’s great French hope with Noah, who won over the hearts of the nation in 1983. Tsonga, like Noah before him, is the No. 6 seed. They both took out the No. 3-ranked player. And both were born of a mixed couple: teacher mom and African father skilled in team sports (handball for Didier Tsonga, soccer for Zachary Noah).

Tsonga clarified all the comparisons: “My relation with Yannick? When he sings, I dance.”

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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