- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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PARIS -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took the clay Friday evening carrying his nation's hopes that a French player could win at Roland Garros for the first time in 30 years -- or at least reach the final for the first time in a quarter-century. France was looking for him to be the next Yannick Noah.
Spain's David Ferrer, meanwhile, took the court carrying the personal burden of having played in 41 previous Grand Slams -- and winning 102 matches in them -- without ever reaching a final. The longest previous Grand Slam drought for a player who eventually reached a final was Kim Warwick, who waited a relatively short 32 majors. Thus, Ferrer was looking to end his role as the Ernie Banks of tennis.
In the end, the burden was lifted from Ferrer's back when he beat Tsonga 6-1, 7-6, 6-2. When Tsonga's final shot sailed long to end the match, Ferrer collapsed to the clay on his back with a mixture of celebration and relief.
"I'm very, very happy, sure," Ferrer said. "This tournament is very special for me and to be the first final of Grand Slam in Roland Garros is amazing, no? Now, I want to enjoy this moment, to rest tomorrow, and to try my best in the final."
Ferrer's dubious reward? He gets to play Sunday against Rafael Nadal in an all-Spanish final. Nadal is 58-1 at Roland Garros and is looking to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event. In other words, Ferrer will probably extend his streak without winning a Grand Slam to 42.
Of course, I will fight in the final," he said. "I will play against Rafael, and it's very important for us because we are Spanish players and this is very important for the country also.
"I know he's the favorite, but I am going to be focused every point. I will try to do my best. But I am not thinking about Rafael, whether he's better than me or not. I will try to fight a lot and to play a very good match. After that, the match is going to depend on a lot of things."
Each player reached the semifinals in impressive form, winning all 15 of their sets along the way, including Tsonga's nation-rousing upset over Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. But Tsonga's streak came to an abrupt end while Ferrer while extended his to 18 and became the eighth man in the Open Era to reach the Roland Garros finals without dropping a set.
Asked whether the public expectations were a help or a burden, Tsonga replied, "It's always an advantage when you play well." He smiled then continued. "When you play well it's always an advantage. But when you don't play your best tennis they can scream, they can do everything, you know. I'm playing on the court, and nobody can do anything for me."
Indeed, Tsonga was not in good form, making 56 unforced errors in the match.
Ferrer handled him easily in the first set, winning 6-1. Tsonga came back in the second by taking the first three games to raise the hopes of the French fans but Ferrer soon squashed them He rallied to win the set, finishing it off with a 7-3 tiebreaker. The empty seats became noticeable in the third as French hopes wilted. Trailing 4-0 in the final game, Ferrer came to win.
It was a frustrating day for Tsonga, who frequently grumbled with the chair ump about whether balls were out. He lost those arguments as well as the match. That leaves Noah as the last Frenchman to win the Open here (1983) and Henri Leconte as the last to reach the final (1988).