AFP - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga kept France's hopes of a Davis Cup World Group first round victory over the Czech Republic alive with an impressive victory over Radek Stepanek here on Friday.
The muscular Frenchman saw off Stepanek in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (7/1), after world number eight Gilles Simon had opened France's account with a defeat against Tomas Berdych.
"Tsonga was incredible," Stepanek said after their encounter. "I never once troubled him on his serve, I was completely powerless. Most of the time I only just managed to get my ball on the racquet.
"I didn't play a bad match. There was just nothing I could do against Jo today, he played a fantastic match," added the world number 16, who is one of the in-form players on the ATP tour.
Beforehand, Tsonga had declared that he did not feel like the leader of the young French team, but his attitude and execution belied his official ranking as France's third best player behind Simon and Gael Monfils.
Tsonga's performance was rendered all the more impressive by the fact he was playing under pressure after Simon's 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 defeat to Berdych had put France 1-0 down.
"I have a few regrets because there were chances to win the match. I missed my opportunity," Simon said. "But I'm not downhearted.
"It's not exactly fun to lose your first Davis Cup match but I'm ready to come back on Sunday (against Stepanek) with the bit between my teeth," he added.
In Saturday's doubles match, Michael Llodra is scheduled to partner former French number one Richard Gasquet against home pair Jan Hernych and Lukas Dlouhy.
Tsonga is slated to meet Berdych in the fifth and final rubber on Sunday.
The winner of the tie will face either the Netherlands or 2008 runners-up Argentina in the quarter-finals.