French Open: Simon d. Harrison

by: Richard Pagliaro | May 28, 2012

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SimonRyan Harrison's creative mix of shots brought him to the brink of a two-set lead. But a moment of indecision—and a sustained dose of resistance from an edgy Gilles Simon—proved toxic to Harrison's upset bid. Outplayed at the outset, a stubborn Simon dug in and fought off two set points in the second set to rally for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

The 56th-ranked American played ambitious tennis, but may spend a sleepless night or two ruing his inability to close out a second set that would have posed a very steep comeback climb for Simon.

The 12th-ranked Frenchman has the skinny frame and endless stamina of a bicycle messenger, but was playing catch-up and shrieking at himself in angst after dumping a double fault off the tape to hand Harrison a break and a 5-3 first-set lead.  The counter-punching Simon, who served just 43 percent in the opener, spent much of the set waiting for something happen, while Harrison made it happen by taking the offensive on pivotal points. Harrison's backhand slice staggered short in the court, coaxing an error as the American broke for a 5-4 second-set lead.

A stinging serve down the middle then gave Harrison double set point. Simon erased the first with a smash. On the second, Harrison had a look at a backhand pass, but appeared momentarily mixed up on whether to loop up a lob or drive the ball down the line. He did neither, managing an indecisive poke that failed to clear the net. Whacking a wild backhand down the line to drop serve, Harrison took out his frustration on his racquet, flipping the stick behind him in disgust at an opportunity lost. The break revived Simon and roused the crowd, which jeered Harrison after he was hit with a racquet abuse warning from chair umpire Enric Molina. The American sparred over the call on the ensuing changeover.

“[The racquet was] not close to anybody,” Harrison told Molina. “I don’t give a sh**, that’s not racquet abuse.”

Still stewing, Harrison could not find a first serve, committing three unforced errors to face double set point before spinning a second serve long to squander a 49-minute second set that was so firmly in his reach moments earlier.

Harrison broke to open the third, but Simon won a 17-shot rally to break back for 2-all. The seventh game swung the set in Simon's favor as he withstood three break points, holding firm for a 4-3 advantage. Leaning into a backhand strike crosscourt to earn triple set point, Simon snatched the 44-minute third set when Harrison sent a weary slice into the net.

On a day in which consistency eluded Simon, his survival skills kicked in and carried him. He smoothed out the rough edges as the match progressed, elevated his level on key points, and effectively answered Harrison’s short slices and angled drop shots with counter-droppers of his own, raising his Roland Garros record to 7-6 and leaving the talented Harrison with another Grand Slam growing pain.

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