Gilles Simon has had a sneaky-good year – winning three tournaments, including Indianapolis, and making the semi finals in Toronto a week later, knocking out Roger Federer along the way. So it shouldn’t be that surprising that he beat Rafael Nadal yesterday on the indoor courts of the Madrid masters. But damn, was I surprised! I knew the result before I watched the match and I still couldn’t believe it. In the deciding tie break, when Rafa got the mini break early on and the crowd went nuts, I was tempted to go online and double check the result – maybe all of the reporters had got it wrong? Had the unassuming, chicken-legged Simon, with his wry smile, pallid complexion and awkward, flat forehand, really snatched victory away from Rafael Nadal on Spanish soil? Like the wide-mouthed crowd tearing their hair out in the stadium, all I could do was gawk and say “Nooooo waaaay!”
And it’s the way the Frenchman won that made the match so surreal. Bring on a straight-up power player with flat strokes, a big serve and a go-for-broke game – a Blake, Tsonga, or Youzhny, for example – and an upset isn’t unthinkable. Djokovic is a multi-dimensional version of this type of power player, and he’s had his successes against Rafa. But Gilles Simon? He beat Nadal at all the things Rafa never concedes – scrambling, mental fortitude and wanting it more. Gilles kept fighting even after going down the early break in the third and then later losing his opportunity to serve for the match. I kept thinking: “Rafa’s not going to let him win, it’s just not possible.” But Gilles won, anyway.
I don’t know how he fared against Murray yet – it’s waiting on my DVR. I’m not going to look at the result ahead of time – we’ll see if he fools me again. But something tells me that while the mind is still willing, the flesh might finally be too weak – that’s the price for beating Rafa on the day. He still beats you the day after.
AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano