Simon brings star power

Big name in town: French professional Gilles Simon on the showcourt in Traralgon. photographs liam durkin





THE Traralgon International ATP Challenger Tour event was highlighted by top seed Gilles Simon taking part in the tournament.

The former World No.6 added a great deal of profile to the event, in what was an added coup for the Traralgon Tennis Association in welcoming a player of his standing.

Simon made it to the quarter-final, but was knocked out by Dutch opponent Jesper De Jong 6-4 6-1.

The Frenchman had a relatively straightforward run to the finals, getting past countryman Geoffrey Blancaneaux in a walkover in the Round of 16, and in a 6-0 6-2 win in blustery conditions against Tim van Rijthoven of The Netherlands in the Round of 32.

While the courts of Traralgon would have surely been a far cry from Wimbledon or Roland-Garros, Simon was ever the professional, and appeared to see the local competition as every bit as important as a major grand slam.

The 37-year-old first took to the court last Wednesday for his match against van Rijthoven, in what was a stop-start affair as light rain made conditions treacherous underfoot.

Both players were initially indecisive about whether or not to commence the match, but eventually got underway after some elbow grease by the ball kids with towels in hand addressed some areas of concern.

It was a rather innocuous start as Simon and van Rijthoven worked their way into the contest, with a number of long rallies highlighting early stages of the first set.

With Simon 13 years older than his opponent, he opted to wear him down rather than go head-to-head, and as the first set progressed it appeared Simon, the current World No.122, was happy to stay patient and take part in long rallies until he found van Rijthoven (ranked 261 in the world) either wrong footed or out of position.

When dissecting the way a player of Simon’s calibre seemed to play, an aspect that stood out was the way in which he never seemed to be rushed in anything he did.

Simon’s desperation and attention to detail also stood out. On a few occasions he still made an effort to get to balls it was clear he had no chance of returning, emphasising the mentality the top line players must have, while he also pulled out of numerous serves after lobbing the ball up only for the wind to take it further away than he wanted.

The match was abandoned for a short while in the second set as the wind became stronger, forcing players and officials to retreat to the hut.

Van Rijthoven became agitated as Simon closed in on victory, whacking one of the match balls out of the court in frustration, but by the same token his body language at that point seemed to marvel at the quality of his opponent, as it did some time later when he hammered his racquet on top of the net with a look on his face as if to say to Simon ‘too good’.

It was a low-key exit for Simon from the Traralgon Showcourt following his win, as he simply made his way into the public viewing area between courts to talk to fellow French players at the tournament.

When asked if he could speak to a humble

journalist from the Latrobe Valley Express, Simon’s first response was “five minutes”.

Simon, who speaks exceptional English, said he was happy with how his first match of the tournament unfolded.

“It was a difficult match, difficult conditions, so you never know what to expect,” he said.

“I was pretty happy about the game and I

managed to play some decent tennis so I’m happy.

“I’m going to Melbourne right after to play the qualies (qualifiers). It is difficult for me now I’m getting older but that is part of sport, you need to play, you need to play some matches.

“The form is up and down, today was a good day, maybe tomorrow is a different one, it is changing very fast now so I just try to appreciate when I have a good day when I can play, move and everything and hope it is going to be the same day tomorrow.”

In what could serve as a lesson in persistence, Simon explained his journey to Traralgon had been some time coming, and like most visitors, couldn’t resist making a comment about the weather.

“It is my first time. I didn’t play as a junior, I was not good enough, so this is my first experience here,” he said.

“Strange one, super-hot the first two days and now it is freezing, windy and raining.”

Having played against and defeated the ‘Big Three’ of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic at stages during his career, the appearance of Simon at Traralgon is sure to add another chapter of rich history to tennis in the region.

Although he wouldn’t name the best of the three, Simon said the challenge of playing against a trio of players who have won 60 of the past 75 Grand Slam singles titles was something he would look back on fondly.

“I’ve had the chance to play against all the players of the era so it was in a way a chance to compete against these guys,” he said.

“In a way I was happy to have the chance to beat all of them also because it means a lot, but at the same time it was not the best era to try to make your career with the titles because they were just contesting the titles with each other.

“But in the end I think it was a chance because as tennis players you want to compete and play against the very best and the most dominant players and I had the chance to face them, play them, lose most of the time, but I had a win against each of them so I’m happy with that.”

For the record, Simon has defeated Roger Federer twice in nine matches, once in nine matches against Rafael Nadal, and once in 12 matches against Novak Djokovic.

And for the record, the time of The Express’ interview with Simon was two minutes, 22 seconds.