Gilles Simon's deceptively languid style has helped him to victories over all the world's top players, but Andy Murray clearly enjoys playing the Frenchman. The 24-year-old Scot has dropped only one set in his last seven meetings with Simon and rarely looked in trouble as he brushed aside the world No 12 yesterday to reach today's semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters.
There were times in his previous match against Alex Bogomolov Jnr when Murray looked badly in need of match practice, but a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Simon confirmed that the world No 4 is running into form at the right time. Cincinnati is his last tournament before the US Open, which begins in nine days' time.
Murray, who will now meet the winner of yesterday's later match between Rafael Nadal and Mardy Fish, went into the event hoping for as much time on court as possible, having lost first time out in Montreal last week in his only other appearance on North American hard courts in the build-up to the year's final Grand Slam tournament.
The Scot likes Cincinnati almost as much as he enjoys playing Simon. It was at this tournament five years ago that he announced his arrival among the elite with his first victory over Roger Federer. Two years later he won his first Masters Series title there, beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Although Simon is an excellent athlete and fine ball-striker – despite his slight frame he went into the quarter-finals having hit more aces than any other player left in the tournament – the 26-year-old Frenchman's game does not match up to Murray's. The Scot is just as quick around the court and has many more weapons at his disposal in terms of his shot-making.
The start was delayed by 20 minutes after a fire alarm went off in the players' area. When they eventually got on court both men began by playing with caution, leading to several lengthy rallies. Given the intense heat and humidity it was clear that stamina might prove to be a factor and in the end it was Simon who suffered the most, having had to play nine sets in his previous three matches.
Following an early exchange of breaks, Murray started to pull away when he broke serve again to lead 3-2. After saving two break points to go 5-3 up, the Scot broke again to take the set, completing the job with a well- judged drop-shot winner.
The drop shot proved an effective weapon against the tiring Simon. Another secured an early break for Murray in the second set and yet another secured victory after an hour and 35 minutes on the Scot's first match point.
"I have to play my game against him," Murray said afterwards. "I've watched him play many players who have just gone out there and just tried to blast him off the court. However it looks on TV it's completely different when you're on the court. He moves great, especially out to his backhand side. He can flick angles from there, so you have to wait for the right moments. Once I started to get control of the points on my forehand I was playing better. But he's a very tough guy to play against. That's why he got to No 6 in the world."
Murray added: "I feel much better than last week, which is important. Each day I just need to feel a little bit better. That's the key to going to the US Open, feeling my best. In the last couple of years it's been the other way round. I've felt my best at the start of this trip and, by the end of it, wasn't feeling great, so I just need to keep improving a few per cent every day and hopefully be playing my best tennis by the US Open."