Pune: Gilles Simon mixed a bit of Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg in his modern day tennis that he dished out at the Balewadi Sports Complex on Saturday evening and revived the memories of the Swedish legends from a an era that ended not long ago.
Best known for his counterpunching style, the world No 89 had all the time to force his big serving South African opponent commit unforced errors in the extended rallies that the Frenchman won almost nonchalantly.
Simon’s tennis had the mark of a different era when watching this racquet game was a pleasure and that really caught the No 2 seed Kevin Anderson by surprise.
Having a 3-0 head-to-head record against Simon was no solace for Anderson as the unseeded Simon, who of Friday dispatched top seed and World No 6 Marin Cilic in the semifinals, forced the South African on the back-foot from the start of the final of the ATP 250 Series Tata Open Maharashtra.
What really transpired in one hour, 36 minutes and 54 seconds was pure ‘Ole world tennis’ that charmed the packed Centre Court crowd and certainly Simon had more fans than the 6’8” Anderson, the tallest man on the ATP Tour.
“He is a great player and though I had lost to him on all the three occasions in the past, I was happy to get pretty good support,” said Simon during his prize presentation speech after winning the inaugural Tata Open title in straight sets 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
“I thought he (Simon) was lot of serve and volley player, but he has changed his game than what we was,” said Anderson in the post-match conference.
“I saw his match yesterday when he defeated Cilic and I had made some plans, but I could not attack him and didn’t execute them well,” said Anderson who now heads to Sydney ATP Tour event, the last tournament before the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open begins in Melbourne on January 15.
“I had a disappointing day at office today, but I would like to take positives from this going into the Australian Open,” said Anderson.
Gilles and his guiles
This season-opener has always been a precursor to what really would be in store at the Australian Open and if that is the indication Simon, who earned 250 ATP World Ranking points, will go into Melbourne with huge set of confidence.
In the past Stanislas Wawrinka had won this ATP Tour event then hosted in Chennai and went on to win Australian Open three weeks later.
Simon may not be in the same league as Wawrinka was in 2014, but the way this Frenchman played against Anderson, he showed rankings really do not matter and his demolition of Cilic a day before was no fluke.
Simon’s unseen weapon
Simon’s greatest weapon was his patience. Nothing flashy, no big serves-he had just one ace as against 15 by Anderson-which clearly demonstrated that aces were no winning weapons, but counterpunches were.
Taking tennis fans to a totally different era, the years in late 80s and early 90s when Wilander and Edberg won Grand Slams in the intervening years that otherwise was ruled by workaholic Ivan Lendl and more flashier Boris Becker.
If winning break point is an art, then Simon did really had mastery over it, much better than what Anderson could do despite the aces that he let out from his racquet when the South African thought he needed them.
“I came in here after an good outing in Abu Dhabi. The three matches I played in the gulf Kingdom gave me the boost I needed to start the season, but I am not going to be disappointed with this loss. I need to take positives from here as I head to Australia,” said Anderson, who admitted that he was stumped by Simon’s changed style.
“He was very patient today and I would I like to use this match as a motivation for the coming Australian outings,” said Anderson, who wants to better his record in the finals of ATP Tour events.
Anderson’s folly was Simon’s neat returns as the South African struggled in each of his services games that went into deuces, while Simon was able to hold his serve without getting stretched.
In the 11th game of the first set Anderson needed an ace to make it 6-5, while Simon coolly pushed the set into tie-break holding his serve in a routine play before winning the tie-break 7-4.
The second set was no different even though the score-line suggested a different story.
Leading 4-2, Simon improved his lead to 5-2 when Anderson’s return landed wide of the court and when the South African came in to save the match he went down 0-30 as Simon executed an overhead smash before netting a return. Again a counterpunch was on offer as Anderson netted his return to hand two match-points to Simon. After a long rally Simon stabbed the ball in the net and when Anderson’s return landed wide on the left court, a French celebration was in the offing since this was Simon’s first title since 2015 when he won Marseille ATP title beating countryman Gael Monfils.
Singles: Gilles Simon (Fra) bt 2-Kevin Anderson (Rsa) 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Doubles: 2-Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop (Ned) v Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Gilles Simon (Fra) 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5).
ATP Ranking points & Prize Money
Tata Open Maharashtra
Champion: 250 pts, $89,435
Finalist: 150, $47,105
He (Kevin Anderson) is a great player and though I had lost to him on all the three occasions in the past, I was happy to get pretty good support
— Gilles Simon
(after his victory)