Simon-Me Some Power
May 1, 2009 · Print This Article
Oh how times have changed. It was a little under a year ago, where relatively unknown Frenchmen, Gilles Simon upset top ranked Roger Federer in the second round of the Canadian Open. That win over R-Fed propelled Simon into one of the hottest commodities that the ATP World Tour had to offer; with his years highlights including wins at Indianapolis and Romania, and reaching the finals and semi-final of the Madrid Masters and Masters-Cup respectively. These superb results also resulted in Simon leap frogging from 30 in the world, to a year ending 6th spot on the computer. He appeared a shoe-in certainty, for top five status, with the chance of being thrown in the mix with the big boys, when grand slam contention was discussed. That all seems like a distant memory at this point.
Do the names Andreas Beck or Mischa Zverev ring a bell? Well these two chaps are responsible for handing Simon his two most recent losses in Monte Carlo and Roma. Put aside the fact that Beck and Zverev were both qualifiers in each event, the most perplexing component of the Frenchman’s recent slump, is the ease in which his opponents have defeated him. In Monaco, the German, Beck took Simon to the cleaners in round two with a scoreline of 7-5, 6-1. Zverev, another German out did his countrymen Beck in Roma, by dismantling Gilles 6-4, 6-1 in 1:03 minutes. Not what you would expect from the seventh ranked player in the world.
The excuse of the claycourt season can’t be mentioned as the reason for Simon’s recent demise, as Gilles has lost seven of his last ten matches on the circuit. In case anyone was wondering, those losses occurred on hard, carpet and claycourts. So what is the problem? Is it all in Simon’s head, or has the tour figured out the cunning ways of the Nice, native? My thoughts would lead me to suggest that the latter is the culprit in this case.
I remember seeing Simon for the first time during the 2007 U.S. Open, and asking myself, how in the world is this guy a pro player? There was no bite on his ball, he could not generate any sort of pace on his own, and Fernando Verdasco, his opponent at the time, was beating the living day lights out of him.
However, to Simon’s credit, he re-tooled his game, not through power but through determination and feel, catapulting himself towards a solid top ten position. But as the saying goes, getting to the top is one thing, remaining at the top is another.
Drawing a parallel to Simon’s current crisis, I recall a similar situation with retired Swede, Magnus Norman. Anyone remember him? Norman had a fantastic 2000 season, in which he made the finals of the French Open and semi-finals in Australia. It appeared that Norman would be a fixture in the upper echelons of the game for many years to come. But with the 2001 season looming, and the anxiety of defending all of his precious points, which resulted in the number two spot, he crumbled. The 2001 season was a bust for Magnus, with injuries and early round exits become the Norm (no pun intended).
Patrick McEnroe made a point of speaking about the Norman’s struggles, during a telecast in the early part of the 2001 season. P-Mac went on to say, that when Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were ask during the off season, which player they thought would have the most trouble repeating his 2000 results? Without hesitation they both picked Norman. The simple premise for Agassi and Sampras choosing Magnus, was due in large part to his grinding style of play, which did not posses any real weapons. The great American champs concluded that Norman would not succeed in 2001, because players had figured out his one-dimensional game style.
Simon is also in this mold. He certainly has many great attributes towards his game, but when you are 143 pounds, soaking wet, and have no real ball speed to your name “figuring you out”, becomes a pretty routine task.
Is there any real hope for Gilles, or is this the beginning, of a Norman-like drop for the feisty Frenchmen? I did pick Simon to finish top five in the world by years end, in my beginning of the year predictions. However, with the holiday season in full effect, my judgment and clarity towards that decision was severely hampered, by Florida sunshine, as well as one too many steak dinners. Therefore, when reassessing my outlook on Simon, I will say that he is headed for some serious turmoil.
The tour is just too strong nowadays, for a playing style like Simon’s to prosper. More specifically from a year to year basis. It is a shame really that his game style can not survive,a contrast to the ball bashing that takes place week in and week out. Simon is also a player who many people can relate to, blue colored if you will, giving the average and avid tennis fan for that matter, an opportunity to feel like they could somehow, someway get on the ATP World Tour, and compete.
His game is not complicated, as it relies on speed and consistency to function. Yes, he can pop a nice backhand down an opponents throat, but it is his ability to fight to the finish, which has served him well, up until this point.
This point, will be the key phrase to follow as 2009 season develops, with the claycourt season not providing the results which Simon had envisioned. His two recent losses in Monte Carlo and Roma, should be circled as the potential turning point in his career going south.
You can be sure that a silent moment of reflection was spent during the recent off season, when Rafa, Roger, Novak and Murray, were looking forward to 2009. Sizing up their competition, and having similar thoughts towards Simon, which Agassi and Sampras had about Norman nearly a decade ago. The more things change the more they stay the same, but in this case, not changing is what will result in Simon dropping out of the top ten in men’s tennis.