Gilles Simon’s Path to Tennis’ Top Tier in 2009
by Dan Martin | October 26th, 2008, 10:17 pm

Gilles Simon has made great strides in 2008. He is currently ranked #10 in the world, has wins over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and has picked up 3 International Series titles on 3 different continents. This is a nice story and perhaps resembles other players who have scratched the top ten but never really threatened to win a major title. Simon may be that type of player. I saw him up close in the Indianapolis semifinals and finals. I was underwhelmed at first, but I have come to believe Simon could move into the ever growing top tier of men’s tennis now occupied by Nadal, Federer, Murray and Djokovic.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro also have chances to move into that top tier. Their power games might make for an easier path to the top than the one Simon must travel, but Simon seems to be solid on all surfaces and knows how to compete. Simon’s most impressive stretch of 2008 came in Indianapolis and Toronto. In Indianapolis, Simon was seeded second and defeated Nicholas Mahut, Benjamin Becker, Tommy Haas, Sam Querrey and 2007 champion Dmitry Tursunov in succession. All five of his victims in the Midwest were at least competent hard court players. In Toronto Simon beat Donald Young, Roger Federer (yes him), Jose Acasuso, and Marin Cilic before falling in the semifinals due as much to exhaustion as to Nicholas Kiefer in a 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 duel. Defeating 9 players in 11 days in two different cities on an extremely hot and unforgiving surface showed that Simon had mettle. Digging in from a break down in the 3rd set to defeat Roger Federer demonstrated that Simon has no fear or quit in him.

Since that 9 match streak Simon pushed del Potro to five sets in New York, won a title in Romania, and got to the final of Madrid beating Rafael Nadal along the way. Much like his win over Federer, Simon battled in a tough third set beating Rafa in front of a Spanish crowd. Prior to beating Rafa, Simon beat Igor Andreev, James Blake, Robby Ginepri, and Ivo Kalovic. A week later, Simon reached the semifinals in Lyons.

My read on Simon in Indianapolis was that he was fast, steady, and determined. His game reminds me of Mats Wilander’s to some extent. Among current players maybe he is a physically fit and determined Nalbandian as he can return serve well and change the pace and direction of the ball effectively. Maybe he is a poor man’s Andy Murray as he is not as tall or strong as Murray but can do a few of the same things. Simon has gotten to the top 10 by being steady and fighting, but can he go higher?

I think he can but has some work left to do. First, Simon has to get stronger. Maybe not to the extent Murray has, but added strength and a slightly bigger serve will make his solid return game even more effective. Second, he has to trim his schedule. To this point, Simon has played 27 tournaments in 2008. He is going to play Paris and wants to play the Masters Cup. 29 tournaments is a lot of travel time and a lot of tennis for a player to log. Simon now seems to expect to beat guys ranked lower than him even if they happen to be a Tommy Haas or Dmitry Tursunov. If he can routinely beat good players, his ranking will not depend upon playing so many events. Finally, Simon needs to make the most of the clay court season. Federer, Djokovic and Murray draw a lot of their water from the same surfaces. Tsonga and del Potro are not going to make their main living on clay either. Simon is not going to supplant Nadal on clay, but relative to the other surfaces the elite players are generally more vulnerable on the softer stuff. If Simon does well on clay in Paris, Rome, Monte Carlo and elsewhere he can pile up points some other top 10 players cannot consistently claim. This is particularly helpful for Simon because Indianapolis, Toronto and Madrid prove he can win points on faster surfaces too.

A more rested, stronger Simon can become a guy no one wants to play. He has beaten Rafa and Roger in close matches at Masters Series events. The next step will be a deep run at a Grand Slam event. Melbourne and Paris are both fertile ground for players with Simon’s steady determination. Gilles may even develop an intimidation factor if he piles up good results in bigger events. He will never scare anyone with his frame. However, if playing Simon is like going to the dentist most players will dread stepping on court with him. Nothing is written in stone, but with more strength, better scheduling and a few more good results Simon will be knocking on the door of the top tier of the sport.

A few Other Observations

Since Beijing, Roger Federer is 16-1 winning the U.S. Open and Basel. He seems to have returned to a more normal set of results on court. Still, Andy Murray is my early favorite for the 2009 Australian Open as he has the most momentum of any man on tour.

Paris has any number of interesting stories and matches. Djokovic’s quarter of the draw looks to be quite rough. I do wish Paris and Madrid would do away with the first round byes for seeded players as playing one extra match in October in no way saps an elite player’s Australian Open chances.

Absence Explained

I have not written anything for Tennis-X since the U.S. Open concluded in large part because my wife and I are expecting our first child very soon. Rest assured, I will continue to contribute to Tennis-X so long as I pass for being more or less sane and the editors will have me.

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33 Comments for Gilles Simon’s Path to Tennis’ Top Tier in 2009

zola Says:

haven’t read your post yeat, just the explanation. What a nice excuse. Congratulations. :) :) Lovely news and all the best to you and your wife. Will you let us know when the baby is born?

Dan Martin Says:

I will let you know. I may also have a great list of tennis parents to emulate when introducing my little one to the sport. Here’s to taping a ping pong paddle into an infant’s hand.

Dan Martin Says:

Good stuff. I was thinking about how Andre’s Dad tried to turn all of his kids into tennis pros with some odd methods. Anyway, I can’t speak for my wife as she never has seriously pursued tennis, but my game leveled off at the 4.5 level a few years ago leaving me light years from Graf or Agassi in terms of tennis genes.

Giner Says:

“Paris has any number of interesting stories and matches. Djokovic’s quarter of the draw looks to be quite rough. I do wish Paris and Madrid would do away with the first round byes for seeded players as playing one extra match in October in no way saps an elite player’s Australian Open chances.”

What about Shanghai chances? DC? What about the long season they’ve had already? I think some of these guys would be plenty tired by now. There’s a chance these guys may have had small tournaments near it.

You are wrong, indoor tennisman! lol Says:

Well, yes it is true! Fed won the tournament, but not many top players are playing in the events. And Murray was in Russia! Federer was struggling in the early matches of the tournament! And Blake was knocked out early! Blake might has a chance against him. Since he had been Federer this year! Well, I would say, he is a top 3 man! But the best! I don’t think so! Just like 2004 to 2007, he won his Grand Slams, when there weren’t anyone there to challenging him. And Nadal was kind of new to grass, but also gave difficult time at last year Wimbledon. The result would had been different. If Nadal wasn’t playing everyday!

Fed with his 16-1 record! Mono his arse record! lol Says:

Well, if he keeps on skipping tournaments because of mono! I am pretty sure that, Fed would looks impressive with his record on papers! ;) Actually it would be ashame that if he didn’t win Basel! Because it has such an easy field!

Dr. Death Says:

Some of these comments are the product of playing rugby at too young an age. Take note, Dan.

It’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter, btw. Let us not piss him off.

sensationalsafin Says:

I have never read 3 consecutive idiotic comments until just a few moments ago. Wow. Are you people serious? I can’t even respond to the idiocy.

Von Says:


Congratulations on the upcoming blessed event!! There’s nothing more beautiful than the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet running through the house. Do you have a preference — a boy or girl? I suppose you’re already fantasizing playing ball and/or tennis with the boy. Precious moments to be enjoyed. All my very best to you and your wife on the soon-to-be happy occasion. :P

Andrew Miller Says:

Hello Mr. Martin: Do you believe Simon is the best of the French? They seem to have a group ready to make more deep runs at Slams (Tsonga, Gasquet, Simon, Monfils, not as much Mathieu but nonetheless a solid player) and they seem to be a bunch intent on individual glory. This year has been a breakout year of sorts for Monfils, Tsonga, and Simon (less so Gasquet but he seems relevant nonetheless).

Will this group supplant the current crop of the Spanish Armada as the best contingent out there? Spain and Argentina and Russia seemed to produce the best players (collectively), but it looks like France’s moment is emerging.

Is France’s moment emerging? Does that mean anything? Can this group do anything?

grendel Says:

The point is, Federer blew away a Nalbandian in, well not his best form, but quite good form. That is significant. In this respect, it doesn’t matter about the quality of the rest of the field. Much as I admire Murray, I don’t think he could live with Federer in this form – not yet, though he surely has the potential to do so. Fortunately for Murray, Nadal etc, these days Federer cannot sustain this kind of form. But every now and then, he’s going to pull it off; any Fed fan must hope he does so in the big ones.

In my immediate reaction to yesterday’s match, I delighted in Fed’s all round play, but didn’t mention his serve – somehow, it seemed too obvious, and besides, it’s the one stroke that can generally be relied upon (although it didn’t look so hot in Madrid). But really, has Federer ever served better?

Let’s not be mealymouthed about this. Has ANYONE ever served better? Noel rightly took me to task for suggesting that Federer’s serve might, at any stage of his career, be comparable in excellence to Sampras’. So let’s look at it from another point of view. Whilst in no sense robotic, Sampras was Mr.Consistency himself w.r.t.his serve. Federer is certainly pretty consistent, but not in the Sampras league; and when he is a bit off in his placement, he does not have speed to rely on, which Sampras did, always. Double whammy from Sampras, not to mention 2nd serve etc. But every now and then, Federer serves out of his skull – as he did yesterday. There will, in the history of tennis, of course have been other comparable serving performances. But does it make sense, at this very high level, to say that one guy bestrides the summit alone?

It seems to me that you can say that Federer has it in him, occasionally, to serve as devestatingly as anyone has ever done. And it is this tremendous weapon which is – occasionally – at Federer’s disposal which leads one to think that he may be a danger to win a slam for 2 or 3 or even 4 more years to come. Not a certainty, which means logically he might never win another one (but then logically, he might win another 16 – so much for logic, you might say), never a certainty but always a threat.

I think we’re in for some funny times in the next few years w.r.t. Federer. Time and again, he’s going to be written off (including by ignoramuses like me). And then he’s just going to spring a surprise, and everyone will wonder: is this the renaissance? No, they will conclude, following a few poor tourneys on the trot – and then, suddenly, there he’ll be again, sheepishly holding up the trophy…..

That is the power of having a very great serve. It doesn’t have to manifest all the time. Just sometimes, when it counts.

Jackie Says:

Yeah great article great analysis.
Gilles is the best! I enjoy watching him playing.

grendel Says:

Noel – sorry for calling you “Neil”!

gulu Says:

Ha ha ha ! The fool seems to be suggesting that Fed’s gonna be beaten by may be even Tom,Dick & Harry ! Go fool go,you need a check up for your badly damaged brain ! ;-)

Jimbojones Says:

The article was about Simon for the most part and has turned into a debate about Federer? Oh well

Dan Martin Says:

A quick comment or two. Von, girls play tennis too even if the WTA has been pretty dull the last few years. We are having a little girl! So when my little one gets to an appropriate age, I will try to get her to take up tennis as a hobby. For the record, I was joking about becoming a maniacal tennis parent.

Mr. Miller, As for Simon as the best of the French group – that is hard to say. Gasquet has crazy shot making abilities but needs to make something happen in the next 18 months. Tsonga has great power. Simon is fast and fights hard. Monfils is a real enigma. If he had better court positioning and tactics he could be unreal, but from having played tennis some myself it seems like it is hard to go from being a pusher to being someone who pushes people around when one’s livelihood is at stake. I like Llodra even. Simon seems the most steady and that always helps, but I need more data to take a guess at who is the best of that very strong bunch.

The French seem to do a good job of developing a lot of players who have pretty complete games, but their neighbors to the southwest have to be frustrating them. Maybe with the Bourbon monarchy in Spain the French can claim Nadal. For me, I will take Kentucky Bourbon.

Dan Martin Says:

As for the 6 match Masters Series comment. I liked how the Masters Series events were a little different than the run of the mill International Series event as players had to play 6 matches in 7 days at most of the events and had to potentially play a 3 of 5 set final. Now, tennis does need to tighten its schedule so as to not run down its resource – the players. However, a top player can win a masters series event with the same effort level of winning a smaller event. 5 matches of a 2 out of 3 set variety is not different from the week to week grind. Sure the draw is generally better, but look at Dubai its draw is nasty too. Agassi has the all time Super 9/Masters Series title mark and Federer and Nadal both have a good shot at passing him, but Agassi’s Masters Series wins generally took more work. Maybe tennis should get a longer off season and schedule while somehow making the Masters Series events a little tougher as well. Getting everyone together to do this would be next to impossible, but it is worth the thought at least.

Tennisnakama Says:

I like Simon because he smiles even if he’s in a tight corner. He never gives up. His forehand is a big weapon. His Inside-out FH is like a firing missile. Very attractive player.

Von Says:


I goofed up big time with my comment about playing ball/tennis with your little boy. After I had written it I thought, Oh no, girls play baseball and tennis too, in fact nearly all of the sports nowadays women play. In view of that potential scenario, it will be a lot of fun for you and your little cutie pie, who will be sugar and spice and all things nice. I bet now you’re talking about it, you can’t wait. Patience — you’ll need it for those 2:00 am feedings. :P

I agree with you on the MS tournaments and dislike the present format, which has been a bone of contention for me, especially the finals 2 of 3 sets — an abomination, and one which I feel was unfair to Sampras, Agassi, and the other players of their era. Some fans put down titles of the smaller tournaments as insignificant, but aren’t the MS tournamnets practically the same, except as you stated a larger draw, but then the top 16 get a bye, so what’s the difference? Nada. I think it’s also unfair to the fans who pay a hefty sum of money for their tickets, to watch a final of only 2 sets on most occasions — if they’re lucky 3 sets. It’s so wrong!

grendel Says:

“The article was about Simon for the most part and has turned into a debate about Federer? Oh well” – fair point. My post should have been on the other thread – apologies.

We tend to think of Simon as having just emerged this year. But I recall watching him beat Murray a year and a half ago. Murray came back to win the 2nd set easily,and you thought: plain sailing, now. Who, after all, is Simon?

A very, very irritating customer indeed, that’s who Simon was (if you happened to support the fellow on the other side of the net). He just wouldn’t go away. And even when he went ahead in the third, you still were tempted to think: this is just an aberration, Murray is clearly the class player here, obviously he will shortly get his act together and send Simon back to the stables or wherever it was he had emerged from. But far from this happening Simon, in his own irritatingly undemonstrative fashion, was proving to be – on the day – the better player. And by the end, you felt Murray was well beaten.

So in those days, as recently, there was this tendency to underestimate Simon. In a strange way, this probably helped him. Nothing like being invisible to catch your opponent off guard.

But all the players are wise to Simon’s skills and courage now. No more “who he?” It will be instructive to see how he handles it.

Dan Martin Says:

Throw in that Monday and Tuesday tickets, normally the most affordable, gave MS ticket buyers a chance to watch top players practice and play. I think the current format makes the Masters Series events having 2X the points of the average International Series tournament insulting. Look at the guys Simon beat to win Indianapolis. It may not have included the win over Federer that Murray posted in Madrid, but otherwise it was a pretty tough set of matches.

Colin Says:

I have high hopes for Murray in Paris, and the reason is that the matches are best of 3. I’d agree that at this stage Federer would be the likely winner over 5 sets, but over 3 Andy has a great chance. Nadal is probably near the limit of even his formidable stamina. Of course, Murray may lose before those two come into the reckoning, but as I say I have high hopes. St Petersburg shouldn’t have taken too much out of Murray, as apart from the Tipsarevic match it was plain sailing.

Von Says:


“I think the current format makes the Masters Series events having 2X the points of the average International Series tournament insulting. Look at the guys Simon beat to win Indianapolis. It may not have included the win over Federer that Murray posted in Madrid, but otherwise it was a pretty tough set of matches.”

This is why I complain about the MS tournaments and decry its unfairness with such sick lugubriosity. Laugh if you must, but I am of the firm belief that the MS tourneys are a joke with respect to value. The winner racks up 500 points and $500,000 for what — the same amount of sets and matches as the smaller tourneys. Look at what Roddick did in Dubai to gain 300 points. The disparity is unbelievable and it also annoys me when people put down the winners of the smaller tourneys because they are not looking at the whole picture. Anyway, who said life was fair.

Von Says:

One other bone of contention for me is the amount of points the players receive for playing until the QFs in the smaller tournaments and tournaments in general — it’s a mere pittance. I believe the points should be more proportionately distributed. For instance, in the GS from Round 1 to the QFs they play 5 matches for 250 points, and then the points go up higher for the SFs and finals, which is ludicrous. For 2 additional matches there’s an additional 750 points, bearing in mind they did most of the work in the early stages of the tournament. Isn’t something wrong with this picture? Not to mention the prize money disparity. I’m angry at the unfairness of the whole points and money situation — the players are being robbed.

kamret Says:

I’m not too sure about Simon! He will be 24 in two months (that’s middle age in tennis), is only 5’11” and, if he was going to be really good, he would have made a name for himself since he was a teenager (like Nadal, Gasquet, Monfils, etc.) did. I like the guy and hope he proves me wrong but I think he is just having the best season of his life right now and, soon or later, the dream will be over, he will return to reality, and then stagnate between 15th and 25th (like Mathieu) for the next few years.

Von Says:

I believe Simon is having his best year ever, which will taper off in a similar fashion to which Kamret has alluded, due to his age. Reading Guy Forget’s comments, who imo is in the best position to assess Simon’s abilities, it seems that he wants to see more of Simon’s performance before jumping on his bandwagon. I’ll defer to Forget, and play the usual wait and see game. Ergo, only time will tell ….

Dan Martin Says:

Simon is 24, but Rafter did not jump on the scene at a young age. Maybe Simon will be a Magnus Norman or Rainer Scheutler. I think he might do more even though each of those men reached a GS final.

Debra Gardner Says:

First of all, Dan, you never know. You might be carrying around the next Chrissy Evert or Steffi Graf. Second, I love hearing about Simon’s being so steady and determined and plain irritating. Since I can’t see, I’ll never appreciate the grace of a Federer or people who play like that, but I love listening to the rallies where the players really sound like they’re going to play until they drop just to keep the other one from getting a point. Also, I love firsts-the first time someone wins a slam, a Masters series, their first big tournament. It’s just neat and makes me realize the hard work they put in to get there. I also like comebacks which is why I will never factor out Federwonder even if he’s playing at 35 and hasn’t won a slam in years. He rather likes those things and can really dig down to get ’em. He sort of reminds me of Venus williams that way. Last, I do think they need to shorten the season somehow. I didn’t know Gilles had played so many tournaments but that can’t be good. I think they need to sit down ans say, “okay, how many of these things do I absolutely _have to play?” They can mark them down and then it might come down to the places they know their presence will benefit or boost tennis. There’s always going to be the temptation to earn more money, especially if you haven’t quite won your first million, or if you only _have won your first million. The little places need the top players because it helps to spawn interest, but it’s because they’re _little places, they can’t pay what perhaps some top players have come to expect. I don’t know what the answer is. I barely understand the difference between a first serve and a second serve! lol

jane Says:


Welcome back! I am happy to hear the reason for your hiatus; get ready for some crazy hours – you’ll be posting at 3:00 am more often with a wee lass/lad at hand. But it’s a blissful time – enjoy.

I was kind of thinking what kamret said while reading through all the posts, but it’s true that some players are late bloomers, or later bloomers anyhow. Simon has shown to be doggedly determined and surprising at the same time. Not simply a grinder. I look forward to seeing what he brings to the table next year.

I am not sure about clay – he certainly didn’t show reams of potential on that surface this year, losing quite early in all the events. I can see, points-wise, why one might make the argument that he should focus on doing well on clay, but he’s got to post some results / show the desire first. (Cassablanca is a title, but not a major event).

Meanwhile, he pushed rather effectively at Wimbledon, and got to the quarters at Nottingham, losing only to Verdasco, who nearly won the whole event. So maybe grass is a surface he should target? Just a thought.

I am missing all the matches – too busy at work. Arrrrggghhhh!

jane Says:

I meant to say he pushed **Gasquet** rather effectively at Wimbledon (he took him to 4 sets via winning a tiebreak, and the other sets weren’t wash outs – one break in each made the difference), and Richard is great on grass.

gulu Says:

I m very impressed with Simon. He should give d big guys a run for their money ! He can tame d biggies 4 sure.I think he’d do better in MS events rather than at slams.If he plays lesser tournaments n gets more rest,then he’ll win a few MS at least !

Sean Randall Says:

Congrats Dan on your daughter. Do keep us posted!

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