Gilles Simon, the painful one who watched himself play

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It was in Bercy, in 2015. Gilles Simon lost in two sets against the world number one, Novak Djokovic. When he left the court, questioned on the spot, the Frenchman had delivered a precise and accurate analysis of his match which had ended a handful of seconds earlier, that he gave the impression of having carried out said analysis with three days of hindsight and an in-depth video debrief.

We hadn’t waited until that day to discover this ability with the Niçois, but it was particularly bluffing through his words after this precise game. As if he had watched his game at the same time he was playing it. Maybe that’s it, Gilles Simon: the man who watched his own matches.

Three months later, Djokovic and Simon put the cover back in the round of 16 of the Australian Open and if the Djoker were to come out victorious again, he would need five sets, four and a half hours of play with, by the way, 100 unforced errors. “Gilles has a difficult game, which is not orthodox, the Serbian will then say. It almost always forces you to play one more strike, and that increases the risk of fouling. “A good summary. A painful one, this Simon, who, throughout his career, must have used strengths that others did not have, or less, because he lacked this strong blow which makes life so much easier. on a short.

Djokovic to Simon: “Gilou, you made me drool!”

Credit: Getty Images

“I had to find weak spots on the other side”

Some have a devastating first bullet. Others a forehand to pierce the walls. Gilles Simon had none of that. But he will undoubtedly remain as one of the most “intelligent” players of his generation. His ability to decipher the opposing game and the game in general and his understanding of tennis allowed him, without a strong blow, to climb to 6th place in the world.

In his book, “This sport that makes you crazy”, the Niçois assures us: everything is worked. The technique, the physical, the mental. But in this quality, what is the part of the innate and the effort over time? He himself struggles to deliver a definitive answer, as he told us:

Everything is working. But we necessarily have predispositions. There are sectors where we are naturally stronger, for different reasons. As a kid, I was shorter than the others, I had a hard time leaning on strengths, so I had to find weaknesses on the other side. Is that what made me approach tennis in this way and that it developed or did I already have it in me before developing it? It’s never easy to say. The point is, yes, it’s one of my greatest strengths in the field. Maybe because it’s part of my story, probably also because I had no choice.”

“If my mind goes astray, it’s over”

The other side of the coin, this essential asset for performance, Gilles Simon could see it evaporate on the court if he was not in control of his nerves. It was Jan De Witt, who was his coach from 2013, who pointed out this aspect of things. “Jan understood me very well, explains Simon. He came to see me explaining my game, which he understood very precisely. He knew where he wanted to go with me. And he quickly put his finger on something: this tactical sense was a very great strength, but it could instantly disappear when I got angry..”

Trite, after all. A player who gets angry most often loses his means. But he can quickly find them. “For some it’s different, he notes. A very angry guy, if his strong point is the service and he sends a first to 220, that frees him, it gets better.”

In the case of Gilles Simon, re-initiating a positive spiral was more complex than for others. “Me, when I start to get mad, I lose my greatest strength, resumes the French. I don’t think anymore, I switch to something else and I don’t use that force at all. If I’m no longer calm, if my mind wanders, it’s over. There, I completely undergo the game. It presents itself to me but there is nothing more. I always needed to be calm for this quality to activate, and it was not always easy“This sport drives you crazy, as Gilles Simon writes, but it will have driven some opponents crazy in his career.

Gilles Simon

Credit: Getty Images

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