Full credit to Gilles Simon. I didn’t see the Frenchman playing that well against Roger Federer Wednesday at the Australian Open, but he did. Down two sets, Simon was dead to rights, but then Gilles rallied to win the third and when I woke up to catch the fourth it was decidedly an even match.
Rally after rally, point after point, Simon was standing toe-to-toe with Federer, and often getting the better of the Swiss during the exchanges.
I was aware going in that Gilles would feed off Federer’s pace – and he did – but I didn’t think he could continuously generate the high-level winners he was producing in the last two sets that I saw. Especially off the forehand!
Simon had won both career meeting with Federer but they came back in 2008. Clearly, though, Simon matches up well with Federer and in the fifth set you could see on Roger’s face that this was no ordinary five-set match: Simon was firmly in Roger’s head.
With the shanks and the “fed-errors” creeping in, entering the fifth given their history the edge went to Simon.
But Federer held his nerves and started to take Simon out of his comfort zone (sitting at the baseline and eating up Fed’s groundies) by bringing him into the net, and it worked. After escaping a nervy 0-30 service game early in the fifth, Fed finally broke through to seize a 4-2 lead.
Simon then saved three match points in his 2-5 service game to hold leaving Federer to serve it out in a pressure-packed ninth game at 5-3. And he did, barely, finishing off Simon on his fifth match point try.
I thought it would be easy – and I guess in those first two sets it was – but in the end it turned out to be quite a momentous match for Federer who still has never blown a 2-0 set lead (166-0).
“He’s a great player first of all so matches against him are never easy,” Federer told the crowd afterward. “This is the first win I’ve had against him, every time we played we go the distance, so hopefully we don’t play each other any more. It was really important to get the second set and from then on it was a tough match, it showed what a great mover, return player he is. It’s great to play against him, I really enjoyed myself out here tonight, it’s really special, and obviously I’m really happy.”
“I wasn’t playing poorly either to lose the third and fourth set, I really think Gilles took it to me, but you remain positive, I worked hard my entire life, I’m happy I won and I’m still in the tournament.”
The match capped a crazy day in which saw Novak Djokovic stumble a little bit losing a set to Ivan Dodig. Andy Roddick also had his problems early on against the lowly Igor Kunitsyn. We also watched Janko Tipsarevic cave in to Fernando Verdasco blowing a two set lead to the Spaniard.
And even the top women were tested.
Venus Williams and that god-awful dress probably should have lost in a bizarre match to Sandra Zahlavova while former champion Maria Sharapova struggled to get through Virginie Razzano.
Heck, even the Bryans needed three sets to win today!
So after two days of blowout matches we were treated to some heart attack tennis. Here’s to hoping for more of the latter. That was fun!
As for Fed, a win is a win and that’s the bottom line. It’s clear that Simon is another one of Fed’s “boogeymen” along with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. But this morning he finally got in the win column against Gilles and that’s what matters most. Up next he should get a breather against Xavier Malisse.
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