Monte Carlo: Murray d. Simon

by: | April 14, 2011

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Simonlef Andy Murray is not exactly the guy you want to be playing on one leg, even if you're Gilles Simon, who’s shown a talent for the art—remember his part-inspirational, part-bizarre 7-6 in-the-third win over Ivan Ljubicic a few years back at Paris Bercy?

Thus, what promised to be a fairly entertaining match-up of wily counter-punchers under threatening skies devolved into an exercise in futility, soon after Simon came down hard and turned his right ankle. In fact, Simon hurt his foot on a set point for Murray that the Scot subsequently botched—partly because of the distraction created by Simon’s misstep.

Up to that point, the match had been unpredictable. It began with two breaks followed by two holds, as each man tested and teased the other. It was a Monagesque Standoff, with each man hitting deep, neutral groundstrokes that prevented either from taking charge of rallies or going for forcing shots. Simon, however, seemed to lose his appetite for what promised to be a seemingly interminable game of cat-and-mouse and began making enough errors to embolden Murray, who responded by ratcheting up his game and playing with appropriate aggression. He took command in the middle portion of the set.

Then came the ankle. After a full injury timeout that allowed Simon to have his ankle heavily taped, Murray swifty won the next two points and the set. Surrender seemed the wise if not only option for Simon.

Surprisingly, Simon decided to play on. As is often the case in a situation like this, Simon suddenly morphed into a young Rod Laver, cold-cocking winners left and right to break Murray at love in the first game of the second set. But the torrid streak couldn’t last. It never does.

The crowed jeered and whistled as Murray ramped up his already healthy quota of drop shots. Obviously, Murray forgot that when the other guy is hurt, you’re supposed to gently place the ball right in his wheelhouse, so that he can win the match and leave you looking like a kind-hearted idiot before friends, fans and family.

Seriously though, Simon’s decision to play on raised an interesting question: should he have quit, given that this is just the start of the clay season, and playing on a bad ankle could only make the injury worse? Was he being a true warrior, or merely a ham enjoying the sympathy and love of the crowd? It was clear after those first few hero moments of the second set that Simon had basically no shot at winning the match, unless Murray went one worse and broke a leg. Or the skies opened up with rain.

Neither of those scenarios materialized, leaving Murray to chalk up a 6-3, 6-3 win that was less satisfying than it would have been against a completely fit opponent.

—Pete Bodo

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