Slow road to stardom
At long last, No. 2 seed Gilles Simon of France is making a name for himself
Gilles Simon is ranked No. 25 in the world and is the No. 2 seed in this week's Indianapolis Tennis Championships, but you probably don't know much about the 23-year-old Frenchman.
That's OK. Few Americans do.
Simon said fans recognize him in France, but he's never been recognized on the streets in the U.S.
With that in mind, here are five things you should know about a rising star with three career singles titles.
1. It's See-MOHN, not Simon.
He said most Americans get that wrong, instead pronouncing his name like the English first name.
Simon's first name is pronounced "JEEL" and rhymes with eel, but no two people seem to say that the same way.
"The first name, it's impossible," Simon said. "You say it and then he'll say it and say it after you, and you'll hear the difference for sure."
2. He's on the rise.
In 2002, Simon finished his first season on tour tied for No. 1,345 in the world.
He cracked the top 500 the next year, the top 200 in 2004 and the top 150 the year after.
He jumped to No. 45 in 2006 and finished in the top 30 last year.
Simon reached the third round of Wimbledon last month and saw his ranking reach a career-high of No. 25 this week.
"My goal in tennis is to be the best ranking I can have with my game, and I just want to (keep improving)," Simon said. "I don't know which ranking I can reach, but for the moment, I have my best ranking every week, so I hope it can continue like this."
3. As his backhand goes, so goes his game.
Simon's two-handed backhand shined in his first set against Nicolas Mahut on Monday, including a rocket down the left side to break Mahut's serve and take a 5-2 lead.
When he dropped the second set 2-6, it was because his backhand kept finding the net. He found it again in the third set to win the match 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, and he said he was confident it will be consistent later in the week.
"My backhand is my best shot for sure," Simon said. "I can hit it across. I can play fast, I can play slow. I can change. It's easier for me than the forehand. For sure, the backhand will come."
4. He's adjusting to America.
Simon lives in Switzerland and plays in Europe as much as he can because it's an easier travel schedule.
But he can't prepare for the U.S. Open back home because Europeans play on slower, indoor hardcourts than what he'll see in New York later this summer.
"For me, it's hard to play here because of the heat," Simon said. "That's why I came here to play a tournament before the two Masters Series because it's important for me to play good there, so I need to be on top."
5. His English is a work in progress.
Simon said most people in France speak only French, so he didn't pick up English until he joined the ATP Tour.
He can carry on conversations in English with a thick French accent, but he said he's still trying to improve.
"It's not easy for me to speak English," he said. "I try. I try. It's really not easy.
"I try to speak better, but it will come for sure -- like the backhand."
Matt Baker, Indy Star, 15.7.2008