It turned out to be that and much more.
After a monster three-hour final set, Tsonga finally delivered the knockout blow by breaking Raonic's serve to secure a 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 victory and a spot in the third round.
Tsonga and Raonic opened play at the All England Club just after noon local time. They left Court 1 nearly seven hours later to deafening applause with their place in the Olympic record books secure.
"I felt like I played really well for most of the match and I just let it slip away from me at the end," Raonic said.
After splitting the first two sets, the players were on serve early in the decider when rain suspended play for almost three hours. When they returned to the court, neither player could find a hole in the other's service game.
Down 23-24 and needing to hold serve to stay in the match, Raonic fell into a big hole by dropping the first three points.
The Canadian saved the first of three match balls with a service winner. But at 15-40, he lunged to retrieve a drop shot and barely got enough of his racket on it to get it back over the net.
Tsonga was in position and smashed the return into the open court to seal the win.
The Frenchman jumped up, extended his arms in the air and let out a roar. A disappointed Raonic could only walk slowly to the net where the players shook hands and hugged.
Tsonga then celebrated by dancing around the court and pulling at his blue shirt collar with joy.
"At the end I was just very happy for my country," Tsonga said. "I did it for them and that's it."
There was the occasional pro-Tsonga chant but the crowd seemed fairly split throughout the match. These fans know their tennis and they were simply captivated as the drama continued to build.
A break point or match ball had everyone on edge. When it was all over, both players were given huge ovations as they left the court.
The 48-game third set was by far the longest in Olympic history. The match also had the most number of games — 66 — in a best-of-three contest at a Games.
The previous Olympic record in men's singles was 30 games in 2004 when Fernando Gonzalez defeated Taylor Dent in the third set, 16-14, to win the bronze medal.
The third set of a women's doubles match in 1988 went to 20-18, with that contest also setting the previous Olympic mark of 63 games played.
The Raonic-Tsonga match was still a long way off the longest set in tennis history, which also was played at the All England Club. John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set in the first round at Wimbledon two years ago.
Tsonga, who's currently ranked sixth in the world, was satisfied with his accomplishment.
"This is the only way for me to write my name in history at the moment," Tsonga said, referring to the domination of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at major tournaments.
"It's good for tennis and it's good for sports," he said of the record.
Tsonga doesn't quite have the same first-serve wallop that Raonic can pack, but he's not that far off. They were equally strong from the baseline and both players showed nice touch at the net.
"It's difficult to play the other guy because his serve is perfect," Tsonga said. "I'm pretty happy with the way I played because it was not easy for me."
Raonic, the world No. 25 from Thornhill, Ont., said he was on the "wrong side" of Olympic history, but was generally pleased with his progress on the sport's big stages.
"I've been sort of knocking on the door," he said. "Hopefully, next time around, I can just kick it down."
Neither player seemed to weaken in the final set with both successfully holding serve until the final game. They kept going back to their respective power games, hoping the other would make the critical error when it counted.
With Raonic serving at 15-16, Tsonga had a match ball but the Canadian answered with an ace to get back to deuce before taking the next two points.
Chair umpire John Blom sounded a little restless a few moments later. When Raonic evened the score with a service winner, Blom slowly called out the 17-17 score to a hearty round of laughs from the spectators.
Both players seemed to have plenty of spring in their step in the final few games. First serves were regularly over the 200 km/h mark and there were no obvious signs of fatigue.
The official match time was three hours 57 minutes.
It wasn't clear whether any time records were broken since match lengths weren't recorded in early Olympic competition. Tennis was played in the early Olympic years but didn't return in an official capacity until the 1988 Games in Seoul.
Several matches have lasted over four hours in duration because the longer best-of-five set format was used in all men's singles rounds until the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Earlier in the day, Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., was eliminated from women's singles competition after dropping a 6-1, 6-3 decision to Venus Williams. The veteran American broke Wozniak in the first game and used her trademark power game to her advantage throughout the match.
"We had some really fast, powerful exchanges but she was on top of her game," Wozniak said. "I think grass really suits her."
Williams had a huge 32-7 edge in winners and needed just 63 minutes to complete the victory. Wozniak was coming off an impressive first-round win over Marina Erakovic of New Zealand.
Williams has won five career singles titles at Wimbledon. She also won Olympic singles gold at the Sydney Games in 2000 and has won two gold medals in doubles (2000, 2008) with her sister Serena Williams.
Canadian tennis hopes were snuffed later in the day when Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil lost their second-round men's doubles match. They dropped a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 11-9 decision to the third-seeded Serbian duo of Janko Tipsarevic and Nenad Zimonjic.
With files from The Associated Press.
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