He does not have either a powerful serve or flashy ground strokes to intimidate his rivals, yet Gilles Simon scripted the fall of big guys on the Tour – Marin Cilic and Kevin Anderson – to lift his first title in almost three years.
Ranked a humble 89, Simon landed on his visit to India without his coach and other support staff but was ready for the grind and scalped the two Grand Slam finalists in 2017 at the Tata Open Maharashtra.
The 33-year-old parted ways with his coach Jan de Witt mental coach Ronax Lafaix and physical trainer Milos Jelisavic.
His rivals admitted that Simon played “smart” and the affable French man, who became a crowd favourite, too endorsed their view.
“This is something I always did. I never hired a coach to help me with strategy. The previous coach I had was a massive mind in the game and knows a lot about the tactics. The strategy was always a strong part for me,” said Simon after winning his 13th ATP singles title.
“To understand what is happening on the court is always my strength. As long as I stay calm and cool and which I did all the week and that’s why I could perform on that level.”
Someone who has beaten greats of the game, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Simon controlled the match with his incredible retrieving skills and mixed up the pace in serve to surprise his rival.
A point noted by Anderson, to whom he had lost in all three previous contests.
Asked if he changed anything in his game to get the better of the tall South African, Simon nodded but did not elaborate.
“Yes, I changed a few things but I won’t tell you because he does not have to know. I made small adjustments. His serve is like his that I have to find a magic trick to return every time, so you just try to jump on the board and try. My serve was great. Yes, I was changing and mixing the pace on my serve and it was pretty effective. I wish I could serve like him and hit it every corner but that’s what I can’t do, so I try find a way to start the point well in a different way,” he said.
Simon agreed when asked if playing against another big-serving player in Marin Cilic, prepared him well for the final.
“Yes I must say. It was helping a lot because they have some similarities to their game. Kevin is even serving better than Marin. It’s terrible to return but it was more so about the rallies from the baseline, they like to hit a lot, they play at a high pace, so yes playing Marin before Kevin was helping a lot,” Simon said.
Simon said he did not expect to reach both the singles and doubles final in the first tournament of the season.
“I was really surprised and it feels good. And I played good. I played a good match against Roberto, the defending champion. I played a few good shots during the match. “So something happened during the week. I felt like home. I was hoping to play one in final, in singles. I have never won two doubles matches in a row, it never happened. So it was a great surprise.”
Talking a about the 39-shot rally on the set point in the tie-break, Simon said, “My heart rate was like 260. I was happy he could not move on the last forehand. It was very important. It was a point when there was lot of pressure,” he added.