By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Gilles Simon didn’t come to the Winston-Salem Open to relax.
He didn’t come to the Winston-Salem Open merely to play a few matches in preparation for next week’s US Open.
Simon came here for one specific reason – to win the tournament.
That’s a great testament to the drive and competitive spirit that has allowed the 30-year-old Frenchman to climb to No. 11 in the ATP World Tour rankings, which makes him the No. 1 seed in this week’s 48-player field.
“I know it’s going to be good preparation for the US Open, but I don’t like to say that, because I don’t want to talk like the tournament is not important,” Simon said after a lengthy practice session at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex. “If I have a chance to win it, I will really go for it, because it’s hard to win a title, and it’s a beautiful tournament. Right now I’m just focusing on this tournament, not the US Open.”
Simon, who owns 12 career singles titles including one at Marseille earlier this year, will make his first appearance at the Winston-Salem Open. He has a first-round bye so his WSO debut is scheduled for Tuesday.
He accepted a wild card entry into the tournament last week after losing to big-serving Ivo Karlovic in the first round at Cincinnati.
The week prior, he went out in the second round at Montreal, so he has only had three matches on hard courts this summer.
He expressed thanks to tournament director Bill Oakes for granting him a wild card.
“I haven’t had great results in the past two weeks so I felt I need to play more, more practice and more matches, and that’s why I’m here,” Simon said. “I had to change a little bit my schedule and I’m really happy the tournament gave me a wildcard. I’m really fortunate to have the opportunity to come here. It’s great facilities, we have everything, great atmosphere, so I’m looking forward to playing some good matches.”
Actually, Simon had been in negotiations to play this week dating all the way back to this spring. But much of his summer schedule hinged on the results of the Davis Cup quarterfinals between France and Great Britain last month.
France wound up losing in London last month, but had they won they would have had a long trip to Australia for the semifinals and that would have impacted Simon’s plans.
“The schedule was really hard to make this year especially with the Davis Cup,” Simon said. “A lot of things depended on the result of the Davis Cup. There was a possibility for us to go and play at Australia right after the US Open, so that would have made for a very long American swing, and so I planned maybe not to play in Montreal, take another week at home, and then come directly here. But we lost and then I changed it. And now I changed it one more time. So I knew I had a good chance to play here, but I wasn’t ready to commit at the entry deadline.”
At No. 11, Simon is currently the highest-ranked Frenchman. That’s a huge accomplishment considering the talents of countrymen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Mahut, Julien Benneteau and others.
But it’s a tight-knit group, so Simon looks at them as friends and Davis Cup teammates instead of rivals.
“We are a lot of good players,” Simon said. “I’m just not paying attention (to being the highest-ranked French player). We are in competition with all the other players. I’m working hard. I’m happy with my ranking. I want to be ranked as high as possible. Sometimes with the ranking, one (French) player is ahead of me, sometimes two, and now I’m the No. 1. But I think we all just try to do our best on the tennis court the whole season.”
The Winston-Salem Open has been good to Frenchmen over the years.
Benneteau made it to the finals in 2011, Tsonga was a semifinalist in 2012, and Monfils went to the finals in 2013.
Simon hopes that success continues this year.
“One more time,” he said, smiling. “I’m seeded No. 1 here, Jo is the No. 3 seed. We know if we are playing good we are capable of winning the tournament. But if not, it’s difficult. There are a lot of good players in the draw and it takes five wins to get there. I feel ready physically, and when you feel good physically maybe you win one or two matches and then you play your best tennis. So that’s why I’m here. I really feel something can happen, and I hope it’s going to be this week.”