MELBOURNE // Last year's finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga led a trio of flying Frenchmen into the fourth round of the Australian Open. It has been 81 years since Jean Borotra provided France with their only Australian Open men's singles champion, but there is a real hope of a breakthrough this year. Tsonga, the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in Melbourne 12 months ago and the fifth seed this year, booked his place in the last 16 with a 6-4 6-2 1-6 6-1 win over the Israeli qualifier Dudi Sela.
Gilles Simon, seeded sixth, managed to blunt the big serve of Croatia's Mario Ancic to win 7-6 6-4 6-2 while the 12th seed Gael Monfils defeated Nicolas Almagro 6-4 6-3 7-5. A fourth Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, was drawn to face Chile's Fernando Gonzalez in Saturday's night session. "It's time for us," Simon said. "If it's not now, it's never." Simon said all the Frenchmen, who have been friends since they were children, got a real confidence boost out of seeing Tsonga reach the Australian Open final in 2008.
"We know that we are all very good players but there is not one better than the others," Simon said. "To see him reach the final, it was really, really good for us and for our confidence. "Finally, we just saw that we were able to do it. That's why I think we had a great year last year." Gasquet made the fourth round in Melbourne last year and also the last 16 at Wimbledon while Monfils drew inspiration from their efforts to reach the semi-finals at the French Open.
Simon made the third round at three of the four grand slam titles last year but had never made it to the fourth round of the majors until this year in Melbourne. The good news for France is they are guaranteed at least one quarter-finalist this year but the bad news is they are certain to lose one player after Simon and Monfils were drawn against each other in the next round. "At the moment we've just played against players we know we can defeat," Simon said. "It was hard but we just did our job. The next ones will be the tough ones.
"I think every day maybe we can all lose, on the same day, but for the moment, we are still here." *Reuters