The 2008 Australian Open finalist had knee surgery last year, but the 33-year- old piloted his big frame expertly around Pat Rafter Arena in a 6-4 7-6 (7-2) win on Friday night.
The 19-year-old was typically resilient in defeat, hanging with the Frenchman in a high-quality contest without managing any knockout blows.
Tsonga burst out of the blocks, bullying the Sydney teenager to jump ahead 2-0. But de Minaur scrambled well in the next game to jag a point he should never have won and was rewarded with the next three points to break straight back.
Tsonga staved off break points in the next game and then really found his groove, high-fiving the crowd after a nifty one-handed backhand winner from deep in the court.
The Frenchman pounced in the ninth game, drilling big winners from both wings to grab the decisive break and serve out the set in 42 minutes.
“In slow conditions out there he was able to really unload on his forehand and it showed in the stats as well. I think he hit about 42 winners to 20 unforced,” de Minaur said.
“I had a couple of chances … a couple of points here and there make the match.”
De Minaur, who announced himself with a semi-final charge in Brisbane 12 months ago, ran and ran in the second set as Tsonga blazed away, earning plenty of praise for his never-say-die attitude and ability to give as good he got against the Frenchman.
One sequence where he chased four balls in a row he had no right to make was a particular highlight. De Minaur was running so much he even busted a shoe as he came within a whisker of breaking in the sixth game.
De Minaur is absolutely ridiculous. https://t.co/hBvlSzwE7Z— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 4, 2019
Unreal shotmaking from De Minaur.— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 4, 2019
Tsonga saved all three break points though and was untouchable in a devastating tiebreak that bodes well ahead of another Australian Open campaign.
“I played a great match. I expected something like this before the match because I saw him play a few times,” Tsonga said.
“He’s a very good player. We have completely different games. It was good tennis.
“I’m just really happy with the way I played and I hope I will do better in the next round again.”
De Minaur was all class in defeat, offering a couple of pairs of shoes to some young fans in the crowd and he received a standing ovation from supporters at Pat Rafter Arena who’d just seen him try his guts out.
The world No. 31 is expected to rise two spots in the world rankings despite not replicating his audacious semi-final run of 12 months earlier in the Queensland capital. It was then, ranked outside the world’s top 200, that he caught the eye of the tennis public before surging to become the country’s highest-ranked male player by year’s end.
The Aussie 19-year-old lamented a handful of missed opportunities that came amid a barrage of Tsonga winners but he chalked it up as another valuable lesson against a red-hot opponent as he prepares for next week’s Sydney International, where he made the final last year, and the Australian Open later this month.
“I’m continuously learning and that’s something that’s never going to change for me,” de Minaur said.
Learning to deal with the pressure of expectation is top of the list and something the fleet-footed de Minaur reckons he’s got his head around.
“The expectations are always going to be there, it’s something I’m going to have to learn to live with,” he said.
“You put it in the back of your head and focus on what you enjoy, what your passion is and that’s playing tennis.
“Knowing I’m mentally and physically fresh, that’s when I’m playing my best.”
That’s why he will likely have his feet up on Saturday, having done what he could to run 33-year-old Tsonga off his on Friday.
“A lot of my time is spent in the hotel lying in bed trying to conserve as much energy as I can, because whenever I step out on court there’s so much I leave out there,” he said.
“I play such a physical game I’m trying to save my legs as much as I can.”
Tsonga with meet 22-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev in a Saturday night semi- final, while Jeremy Chardy plays Kei Nishikori for a spot in the final earlier in the day.