Frenchman Gilles Simon is set to taking on reigning US Open champion Andy Murray for a quarter-final place today. While Murray has swept through his section of the draw without losing a set, Simon has been toiling away on the Melbourne Park courts to earn his place.
Simon, the No. 14 seed, has spent a total of nine hours and 37 minutes on court, compared to Murray’s five hours and 30 minutes. The Frenchman’s third round showdown with countryman Gael Monfils on Saturday night lasted four hours and 43 minutes alone, with Simon limping across the line 8-6 in a dramatic fifth set. It was an extraordinary match with twists, turns and long rallies, including one that went for 71 shots and lasted over two minutes. Simon, who was battling cramp in the match, admitted he didn’t even know how he won it.
“I was in a bad shape,” he said. “I felt I played the end of the match like in a dream, like I was not even on the court. I was just hitting the ball, trying to run, trying to catch it, and not thinking anymore. I was too tired to be happy or upset or thinking or ‑ I think at the end of the match I just, you know, completely lost control.”
Simon got to bed at 5am after his late-finishing match against Monfils and spent Sunday recovering for his showdown with Murray.
Murray may start favourite, but Simon, a 2009 Australian Open quarter finalist, will leave everything on court once again. He spoke to australianopen.com about his fighting spirit and just what makes him special as a player...
AO: You list American tennis player Michael Chang, who won the 1989 French Open, as one of your idols. Why is that?
Simon: He was one player who helped me a lot when I was young. I was small and grew up very late and so I was usually playing taller and stronger players than me physically, so it was difficult on the court. To see him playing very clever tennis helped me to believe and to be confident that I could also make it.
AO: What would you say is the strength of your game and why?
Simon: It is never easy to talk about your own game but I think I am able to give an answer to my opponent every time. This is my strength but also my weakness because sometimes I’m not able to play the tennis I have to play to make the match easier for me when I play a lower-ranked player. That is the most important thing in my game I have to improve, being able to play my best tennis even if the guy in front of me doesn’t ask me to play my best tennis.
AO: What is the biggest improvement you have made to your game in the past 12 months?
Simon: I think I’m a bit more relaxed on the court. I was talking a lot, too much, on the court. In the past three or four months I feel like I’ve managed to focus more on the game and feel calmer inside, even if sometimes I’m playing awful tennis. It helps me to focus on what I have to do to win the match and just being more relaxed will help me to keep healthy.
AO: What is the part of your game you have had to work on the hardest?
Simon: To be more relaxed. I know it because I know what I can do when I practice. I can do a lot of things on the court but unfortunately a lot of the times in the matches I can’t do the same thing. It’s difficult to change but I know I can do so many things different to be more confident and relaxed on the court.
AO: How have you taught yourself to be more relaxed on court?
Simon: It’s a long fight. You always think ‘okay today I won’t say anything’ but then it is just impossible. You have to find a way to get in the right state of mind before a match- a good one. It doesn’t have to be the same one as the guy who doesn’t say anything, but your way and the way you feel comfortable.
AO: How do you prepare for a match? Do you have any set routines?
Simon: Not really. I just prepare my racquets and try to focus for 10 minutes on what I have to do on the court.
AO: You are currently travelling without a coach. Does that make it harder to prepare for matches and tournaments?
Simon: I just want to go with my head now. I stopped with Thierry (Tulasne) in September. We worked six years together, so it is a big change for me but I think I reached a moment of my career when I need to make my own decisions.
AO: What is it like playing in front of crowds- do you feed off them or ignore them?
Simon: I like to play in front of the crowd. People think I am shy because I prefer to stay quiet, but of course I prefer to play in front of a full stadium instead of an empty one.
AO: You are currently ranked 16 in the world and got as high as 6 in 2009. Why do you believe you belong in the top 20?
Simon: When I was younger I was checking out the rankings all the time because I thought it was the most important thing. It ranks your level on the past year- not just the last two weeks or months. I reached number six in the world but now I just try to be better than that level. I don’t care about being top 20, top 15 or getting in the top 10 again. I just want to improve. I know if I want to be top five I need to win some Master series and be better than what I am right now. I know I need to improve, so that is my focus.
AO: A record-equalling six French men made the third round in the 2013 Australian Open and you are one of four who made the fourth round. What is it like having so many of your countrymen at the top of men’s tennis? Is it competitive or do you share good camaraderie?
Simon: There is good camaraderie because we all know each other from when we were very young. When you know someone for 15 years, of course you have a nice relationship. But still it is competitive. Tennis is about the fight to win against your opponent, even if they are your friend, so I think we have the best relationship you can have.
AO: Finally, your fourth round opponent is Andy Murray. What are your thoughts on the match and will you be physically ready for the challenge?
Simon: With Andy, I don't have to explain to you how strong he is. Of course it will be really, really difficult, but at the moment I just happy that I won the last one, and I will just try to go and take my chance even if ‑ I don't have a lot of chance to win this one, but this is my job to go on the court and to do the maximum to bother him and to give him a hard time. The thing is it's difficult to win 6‑2, 6‑3, 6‑2 against Andy. I'm not sure if we play longer than that that I will be able to make it to the end. I just want to go on the court and try my best.