Saturday, 18 October 2008

Marathon Man...

Gilles Simon did the unthinkable today. He defeated Rafael Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 6-7(6) in front of an all-Spanish crowd in Madrid in a gruelling encounter that lasted 3 hours and 22 min.

What makes this all the more surprising is that Nadal is normally expected to come through tough, physical matches like this and if not, then you certainly wouldn't expect the 140lb Simon to be the one to get the better of him.

What Simon does have in spades though is endurance. He's built more like a marathon runner and his superb consistency gives him the ability to push opponents to the limit. Not that he's a grinder either - he's an aggressive player who takes the ball quite early and knows when to go for winners. He also appears to have the knack of producing winners on the run - something even the very best sometimes struggle with. His game reminds me of Paul Henri Mathieu minus the reckless nature.

Before today I thought of Simon as a journeyman who happened to be on a good run; he didn't to me, appear to have any special weapons - just a good all round game. His stature also made me wonder if he'd ever really be able to trouble the big guns.

I still have my doubts, but he certainly appears to be deserving of a top ten position. His victory today was made possible by the way in which he gradually eroded Nadal's confidence and got him to play the match on his own terms. By the last set Nadal was not delivering the heavy high bouncing shots we normally associate with him and was noticeably less aggressive. A lot has been written on the improvements that Nadal has made to his hard court play, but its fair to say he reverted back to his form of about two years ago when aggressive players like Blake and Youzhny were getting the better of him.

In the other semi final, Murray got the better of Federer again 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 thereby avenging his US Open final loss last month.
The head to head between them now stands at 3-2 in Murray's favour.

Much has been made of Murray's great record against Federer here in the UK, but I've always thought that the two prior victories he had against him were made possible by Federer's poor form: I saw the match in Cincinnati two years ago and have a vague recollection of Federer seething at his inability to get a ball in court. As for Dubai, we all know just how below par
Federer has been on hard courts this year (prior to the US Open of course) and Dubai was no exception.

I'm no apologist for Federer, some of whom seem to attribute every loss he has on 'poor form', or (as has been the case this year) mono. But I do think Murray's interests would be better served if due recognition were given to the factors that played a part in those wins. Due allowance ought to be given to Murray too for his US Open loss: he was in his first Slam final facing a resurgent Federer - hardly surprising that he came slightly unstuck.

What makes today's win special for me, is that it was on an equal footing. Whatever was troubling Federer prior to the US Open now looks to be well and truly behind him.
Murray too, has been a different class of player since Wimbledon with a faster serve and more aggressive play (something I've been wanting to see in his game for ages), and with the experience gained at that US Open final was better equipped to cope with whatever Federer brought to the table
The big difference from the US Open though, was Murray's serve which he used to great effect particularly in the last set.

I sincerely hope that Simon has enough left in the tank to make tomorrow's final a quality encounter; it'll be impressive if he even turns up.

Simon image by chascow

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