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Ali's boxing spirit inspires tennis star Tsonga

The soft-spoken Tsonga admits his spiritual connection to former boxing legend Ali, strengthened by the fact that his Congolese-born father watched one of The Greatest's bouts in person in 1974.

sports Updated: Jan 26, 2008 16:12 IST

Gentle giant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will carry the fighting spirit of legendry boxer Muhammed Ali into the four corners of the court when he squares off against Serb Novak Djokovic in Sunday's Australian Open men's final.

The unexpected title match will pit the 22-year-old Frenchman, whose square-jawed features force the comparison with a young Ali, and the dynamic, 20-year-old Djokovic in a meeting that will produce a new champion at Melbourne Park.

Both young guns ambushed the reigning power figures in the game in semi-final shocks - Tsonga hammering world No.2 Rafael Nadal and Djokovic pounding out a straight-sets win over the near-invincible world No. 1 Roger Federer.

The two winners have never met in a match. Djokivic has the experience edge after losing to Federer in last year's US Open final while Tsonga is playing in only his fifth Grand Slam event.

The soft-spoken Tsonga admits his spiritual connection to former boxing legend Ali, strengthened by the fact that his Congolese-born father watched one of The Greatest's bouts in person in 1974.

"I've watched some (Ali) DVDs, and my father was at the fight at Kinshasa because he's from Brazzaville. He took some photos, so I have some souvenir. His personality on the ring was great. Maybe I have the same tennis as his boxing," said Tsonga.

Tsonga, whose delighted parents are due to arrive just hours before match time Sunday from their home in Le Mans, said he won't change anything in the final run-up to the biggest match of his career.

"I'll just stay in my room at the hotel, practice, and that's it. I know it's going to be difficult, but I'm here and ready for that," he said. "I'll try to approach this match like the other one."

The quiet conqueror said he goes into the title bout with nothing to lose and fighting against the odds.

"It's the same, because Nadal is number two in the world and Djokovic three," Tsonga said.

"Both of them won a lot of tournaments and they have more experience than me. I'll just do my best, and that's it. I will see what happens on the court. If I win, that's unbelievable. And if I lose, I did my best, so no problem," the Frenchman said.

Djokovic goes in with respect for the Frenchman.

"Tsonga is coming up. He's just amazing athlete," said the Serb. "He's been performing some impressive tennis in these two weeks, as I did. I still haven't lost even a set here in Australian Open, which is amazing. It's gonna be interesting to see young players playing against each other. Obviously, we will not have anything to lose."

Djokovic predicted that he and Tsonga will be equally motivated, "even though looking at the rankings I would be the favorite. But it's finals, so anything can happen".