Murray prepares to make power point against Simon
Saturday 26 June 2010
Gilles Simon, Andy Murray's third-round opponent here this afternoon, is nicknamed "le poussin" ("the chick"). In a sport where size and strength matters, the Frenchman is an exception to the rule.
Simon stands at 5ft 11in tall, weighs less than 11st and has legs befitting a man with his nickname. Murray's frame is by no means exceptional in the modern game, yet the Scot is 4in taller and more than 2st heavier.
Unsurprisingly, Simon's favourite surface is clay, where his languid ball-striking and athleticism – when he is not troubled by the knee problems that have seen him fall to No 32 in the world rankings from No 6 since the start of last year – are particularly effective. When the balls are flying, as they do on grass or on the faster hard courts, the 25-year-old from Nice lacks the power to take advantage.
Murray, whose intelligent play makes him a contender on any surface, is by no means over-reliant on his physical assets, but his strength is one of the many weapons at his disposal. The world No 4 has worked hard on his serve, for example, and hit 18 aces at speeds of up to 136mph against Jarkko Nieminen on Thursday, helping him to his second successive straight-sets victory.
If Simon looks at the big hitters with envy, the Frenchman also feels it is time to change the rules. His views were reinforced by the serving slugfest between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which featured a record-obliterating 215 aces. "I've been saying for a long time that the service plays too big a part in the game," Simon said. "From the outside it's very amusing and funny. You wanted them to go on to 200 games each. But lessons should be taken from this.
"Nico [Mahut] had only one break point in the fifth set. I don't know how many times Isner served, but when you have only one break point after so many games, you have to ask whether something should be changed. We're not talking about forehands, backhands or passing shots. All we're talking about is the serve. I don't think it's right that when you play someone you get one break point in 60-odd service games."
Isner (6ft 9in), who broke the aces record set last year by Ivo Karlovic (6ft 10in), is one of a growing number of players who are taking full advantage of their height. Isner, Sam Querrey (6ft 6in), Marin Cilic (6ft 6in), Juan Martin del Potro (6ft 6in), Tomas Berdych (6ft 5in), Robin Soderling (6ft 4in) and Ivan Ljubicic (6ft 4in) are all in the world's current top 25.
"There comes a time when you have to change something," Simon said. "The change I would make to rebalance the game – which will never be made because it would be such a revolution – is to have just one serve. You would still have the advantage of serving. But if you compare Isner's second service and mine, they are not the same at all.
"Guys like him can miss their first serve because they know they have a second one to come. Otherwise, you have to be 2m tall to face him because whatever serve you give them, they will return the serve because they have long arms. When you serve out wide, he can always return."
Simon added: "When I saw Cilic and Del Potro arrive, I knew they would be very good because they have the profiles of guys to play well and the surfaces are perfect for them. There are no small players any more."
Murray, in contrast, does not see much wrong with things as they are. "If you had different rules tennis wouldn't be [talked about] everywhere like it is today," he said. "If you talk to some of the American guys that match [Isner-Mahut] is on all the talk shows and in all of the papers, so that's great."
The Scot believes the match demonstrated the fitness levels needed by top players: "For me, tennis, along with boxing, UFC and cage fighting, is one of the toughest sports in the world. I know how tough it is to be a tennis player and how much work you have to put in if you want to be at the top of the game. They were on court for seven hours on Wednesday. There's really no other sport in the world that you'd have to do that."
Murray, who has beaten Simon in their last three meetings, will start as the clear favourite, but described the Frenchman as "a very difficult player to play against". Like Murray, Simon has gone one round better with each of his appearances at Wimbledon, culminating in his run to the fourth round last year. "One thing I've always known how to do is raise the level of my game," the Frenchman said. "That's generally what I do best on the tennis court."
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