Tennis: the hard lesson of Professor Gilles Simon



These are his words and his numbers, and they are relentless. “France has more than a million licensees, Spain 100,000 and Switzerland 50,000, we have one of the richest federations in the world and we have only won one (tournament) Grand Slam at men since World War II and not much more among women ”, explains Gilles Simon the day after the publication, Wednesday October 28, of his book “This sport that drives you crazy” (1).

“Our juniors do not confirm”

“Our training is excellent for the juniors, we have without doubt the best in the world, but nobody questions the fact that most of these young people do not confirm on the senior circuit, he adds. Why do we train them on hard ground indoors, when three quarters of the tournaments are outdoors and a good part on soft ground? “

All the facts he puts forward are indisputable, but nobody had stated them with the precision of this metronome player, who rose to sixth place in the world in 2009 and winner of nine tournaments. Without doubt Gilles Simon is not the most spectacular of the quartet of musketeers that he forms with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Richard Gasquet. But he is the one who thought the most about this game of tactical and psychological chess that is a tennis match.

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“Yes I know, we will say that Simon opens it again, too bad I assume”, declares this 35-year-old player at the end of his career, who dreams of a retraining in training or the organization of his sport. The charge is hard against a federation which celebrated, Friday, October 30, its 100 years in the gloomy atmosphere of the second wave of Covid-19, involving the closed session on the Bercy tournament which starts this Sunday 1er November.

This bulky Roger Federer

Behind the federation, men are no more spared: from Henri Leconte, who “Speak without thinking”, to Yannick Noah, who gives a commando speech to Davis Cup players because they “Don’t work enough”. Passing – above all – by Guy Forget, captain accused of a tactical error to the detriment of Gilles Simon in the lost Davis Cup final in 2010. Michael Llodra was preferred to him while his own game was, according to Gilles Simon, more suited to the opponent, the Serbian Viktor Troicki. “I develop this example at length, not to settle accounts with Guy or with others, this is absolutely not the subject of this book, but because it sums up well what has been wrong in France for 40 years, the evil is deep and I myself suffered from it when I was little ”, he adds.

What is it about ? Basically, Gilles Simon deplores that educators, fascinated by Roger Federer, swear by the attacking game, imposing a framework that does not necessarily suit different players. “ Forget player was a striker, as captain he wanted to promote this tennis, which was not suitable for this final, he recounts. Not everyone can do a 5-5 half end, there is only one Federer; players like Nadal, Djokovic or me, to another extent, have always suffered from the comparison. The kids we train too. Why can’t we defend eight yards from the baseline if we’re effective like that? Because Federer takes the ball early? We must get out of the unique Roger Federer model. “

“We don’t teach young people that it’s normal to be afraid”

A real technical and tactical lesson, this book, whose subtitle “Thoughts and love of the game” is at least as important as the provocative title, also returns to the great void of French training in the mental domain. “Fear is inherent in this sport: yes, a player can be scared to make a double fault at an important time, to lose to a less well classified than him, he explains. If he shows it, he will pass for a coward, a “wetter” as they say in the trade, while educators want warriors. “

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Himself has ” took the initiative to do mental preparation at 26 ” : “I then understood that it was normal to be afraid and that there were methods to deal with it. No one had told me that before and today it is one of the things I have to pass on to the youngest ”.

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