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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Ever the shy and affable character on tour, big-grinning Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one of the last guys out there who’d want to help a player notch up an unwanted milestone in their career.

But it was either that or take a first-round hit himself, and that never really looked likely in a 7-5 6-3 6-3 victory over journeyman Filippo Volandri at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.

In showing the 32-year-old Italian the door, Tsonga handed his opponent his 16th first-round defeat in as many appearances, a horror run that dates back to Wimbledon 2007.

Don’t expect Tsonga to show any self-indulgent pride in inflicting that sort of humiliation though.

Amid the success and the consequent fame and money that comes with it, the best thing in the Frenchman’s life remains something pretty down to earth.

“I will say when I come back home and I see my family,” he said. “That's the best part, because, you know, always enjoy it because I don't have the possibilities to see them a lot. So when I come back, you know, it's always a party, it’s great.”

He’s a long way from any sort of party mood just yet.

Having arrived in Melbourne on the back of a successful Hopman Cup campaign where he helped guide France to its first title at the mixed teams event, the 10th seed started the slower of the two in the stinking hot conditions, dropping serve at one-all after his opponent whipped a crosscourt backhand past him.

With his ice-pack a permanent fixture around his neck at the change of ends, an at times agitated-looking Tsonga often looked skyward willing the thermometer to nudge those few degrees higher to allow the roof to be closed.

It never happened.

And he was lucky scrappy play for the duration of the first set never proved too costly in the end.

A loose game from Volandri serving to stay in the set handed the Frenchman a love game, with a forehand well wide sealing it 7-5.

Tsonga pressed early in the second, bringing up a break point at 0-1 but badly mistimed a forehand and appeared to lose his footing, a look of frustration at his footwear.

“Yeah, because of the heat, the material of the shoes, it really becomes not really hard,” Tsonga said. “It's not good for our shoes when it's hot like this.”

Break point opportunities went begging throughout the second set and a yell of frustration was more the result of having to prolong his stay in the searing heat.

Volandri, though, would bring some reprieve.

Back-to-back double faults allowed the Frenchman to break.

He held the advantage and closed it with an ace out wide for 6-3, clocking 11 winners for the set to his opponent’s five.

Tsonga continued to stamp his feet and then his authority in the third, converting a second break for the match when a final Volandri backhand sailed wide after 110 minutes.

And in the end it was more relief at keeping his match under the two-hour mark than cause to celebrate over his level of play.

It’s early days, but his family might want to hold off on the party plans just yet.

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Post-Tournament
Saturday, 1 November 2014
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