Tsonga unravels the human side of sport

French tennis star Jo-Wilfred Tsonga won many a heart in the Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open when he showed the sensitive, human side, proving that tennis players are not mere returning machines, aiming only to get one shot across the net more than their opponents.

Back in 2008, Tsonga made waves by making it to the Australian Open final as an unseeded 22-year-old. But on Tuesday evening, his decision to not resume play against Australian Omar Jasika until he had accompanied a ball girl in distress off the court earned him plaudits not only from the courtside spectators but also from fans around the world.

WILLIAM WEST / AFP

The ballgirl had taken a nasty whack on her face and was teary-eyed when Tsonga noticed her. He approached her, put his hand on her back and asked if she was all right before summoning some help on to the court. He took the tennis ball she was holding from her and helped her over to an official, who took the dazed girl up the tunnel as the crowd applauded Tsonga.

The World No. 10 said he simply chuckled when she threw a ball two metres wide of him at the start of the game before realising she had a real problem. “I saw she was in trouble,” Tsonga said.

“It was normal to help her out of the stadium. I hope she's okay. To be honest I didn't do anything special.”

Tournament organisers said the girl was fine after the match.“The ball girl involved is at home resting today and we look forward to seeing her back on court in the coming days,” a Tennis Australia official said. “She is very grateful to Jo-Wilfried for the care and concern he showed last night, and to the ballkids team and Tennis Australia staff for their support.”

Just a day earlier, Australian John Millman showcased an act of sportsmanship when his opponent, Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman cramped badly in the Melbourne heat and retired from their first round match. Schwartzman lay prone beyond the baseline and Millman rushed across the court to check if there was something he could do to assist his rival.

“I'm sorry mate, I'm sorry. This is not nice,” he said as tournament officials sought to alleviate Schwartzman’s suffering. “Can I get anything for you? I have salt tablets... will that help? Sorry Diego, sorry.” Millman consoled Schwartzman's trainer as his opponent was stretchered off the court.

Tsonga’s spontaneous act was reminiscent of Novak Djokovic’s decision to make a ball boy sit next to him during a rain interruption during the French Open in 2014. Rather than have the ball boy hold him an umbrella, Djokovic made him sit beside him, held the umbrella for him, let him hold his racket and offered him a drink besides warm conversation.

Another memorable moment from a ballkid perspective came during the BNP Paribas Showdown 2015, an exhibition match featuring Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov when he a ball boy got to play a point against the legend. It is such responses that serve as reminders that professional sport in not all about competing but also about recognising the contribution of everyone around.

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