My France: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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- Credit: © Alamy

Leading French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, ranked 12th in the world, tells Pierre de Villiers about his Grand Slam title hopes and how fishing helps him to relax away from the court

Do you feel a lot of pressure playing in front of passionate local crowds at the French Open?

No, I like playing in front of my home crowd. I like to play in Paris in front of my friends and family. The rest of the year I have to travel and am alone for the tournaments. Playing in France is an opportunity to experience a good moment in sport.

You always seem to play the game with a smile. How important is it to have fun out on the court?

The most important thing in my life is to be happy and enjoy everything that I do. I appreciate having the opportunity to play tennis and live that life, so everything is positive and I try to enjoy it as much as possible. That’s why I am always happy. Even if I sometimes lose a match, I know that being a tennis player makes me part of something magical.

You spend a lot of time outside of France. What do you miss most about the country?

The food! When I play at Wimbledon I am upset about the food [laughs]. It’s great, but it just isn’t as good as the food in France. Of course, I also miss the language.

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What do you do to take your mind off tennis?

I love fishing. It’s nice to find a tranquil place and get away from things. It’s not just the fishing I like, but the environment. It is always somewhere beautiful. When I am fishing I’m not thinking about playing a match or doing an interview. I can stop time and say, I’m free.

You are one of the most recognisable people in France. How do you deal with the attention while out and about in Paris?

You never get used to it. I come from Le Mans, a small town, so it is always going to be something different and tough to deal with. A lot of people recognise me in the street, so it is always better to find a quiet place like a small restaurant with four or five tables or a small bar to have a few drinks with friends.

How supportive were your parents when you realised you wanted to be a professional tennis player?

I wouldn’t say that my parents pushed me, that’s not the right word. They always said ‘do what you like to do, but do it hard.’ When you find your way, you go at it 100 per cent. At the same time, my parents said that with everything I did, the most important thing was to be polite to people.

I presume that the French Open is the one Grand Slam you really want to win.

The French Open and Wimbledon. I want to win at Stade Roland-Garros (pictured below) because it is here in France and I love playing on clay. And I want to win Wimbledon because it is special to compete on grass. I would say that Wimbledon is classy and that the French Open has charm.

Have you thought about what you want to do after you retire from playing professional tennis?

I like to keep one foot in tennis, but not both. I am somebody who thinks about other things. It is easy for me to create distance from tennis. I don’t know exactly what I will do after I stop playing. The only thing I want to do is to build a family and have children. It is maybe the main thing in my life.

The 2014 French Tennis Open is being staged at Stade Roland-Garros from 25 May to 8 June. www.rolandgarros.com