James Pham is on the ground in Bangkok. He’s writing about the Thailand Open this week for The Changeover.
True to his word, Bernard Tomic is sticking to his game plan and trying to be more aggressive. Gilles Simon, fresh off a tournament win in Metz (d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), is doing what he does best — being a human backboard. Standing 2-3 meters behind the baseline, he gets back every Tomic ball, keeping it low and deep. A few times, Tomic hits the ball short, either by accident or design, and induces an error. But he doesn’t pursue the strategy and ends up losing a close, high-quality match, 6-4, 7-5.
Simon has really perfected the art of doing the very minimum needed to win, inducing opponents to pull the trigger first, with either a winner or error. Even more impressive is that he does this with breadsticks for legs, in comparison to the tree trunks the other guys seem to sport. Even during changeovers, he channels his inner Obi Wan and barely moves a muscle, in contrast to Tomic who fidgets the whole time.
After the match, I talk to Gilles in an effort to uncover his super secrets:
The Changeover: Coming off the win in Metz, dealing with fatigue and jetlag, what’s your secret to getting physically ready for this tourney?
Simon: Tough today but I had a good sensation on court. I like the conditions here, that’s why I play here every year and am pretty successful. Time difference at 12 [noon, match start time], it’s like 7:00 a.m. for me with the time difference. I was afraid of this match.
I’m a bit tired and have to be careful not to get injured. This is my main problem. Before I was more confident in my legs than my game, now it’s the other way.
The Changeover: By the way, congrats on a great record of consistency, at least one tournament win every year for seven years. What’s your secret?
Simon: I don’t know, just try my best every time. Every time I win, I’m afraid it will be my last one. So I just try to enjoy every one of them. I hope I will continue to win. It’s good.
In the last match of the day session, Milos Raonic takes on Marinko Matosevic. After an epic 12th game in the first set where Raonic manages to save a few set points against and pull out the tiebreak much to Ivan Ljubicic‘s pleasure, Matosevic seems to deflate, continually shrugging his shoulders towards his coach Mark Woodforde every time a 220 kph Raonic serve thunders past him. It doesn’t help that he gets every single Hawk-Eye challenge wrong the entire match, burning through them faster than Marcos Baghdatis does racquets. He screams in agony when he has a rare break point/set point on the Raonic serve and can’t challenge an ace that appears long.
Early on in the second, Matosevic breaks Raonic, holding up both hands triumphantly to stir the crowd who is pro-Raonic (most likely because Raonic is much easier to say). That bit of extra motivation, along with inspired hitting into the corners, is enough for him to take the second 6-4, sending the contest into a decisive third. There’s a whole Canadian section cheering him on, while one lone, very loud Aussie yells out as Matosevic is serving to stay in it, “The whole of Australia is watching, mate!” Umm. Yeah. No pressure, though …
Finally, Raonic breaks Matosevic to take the match 6-4 in the third, much to the delight of the tournament organizers, now that the top six seeds are in the quarters.
Before the night session, there’s extra fanfare as the Thai Prime Minister is set to make an appearance. I’m hungry and tired and decide to skip Richard Gasquet‘s match (which he wins handily against Lukas Lacko). The Transport Fairies decide to make up for the other day’s so-close-but-so-far incident. I’m heading back with Jamie Murray (who’s really a soft-spoken all-around nice guy) and his wife and coach, Matosevic and Mark Woodforde and a guy who I think is Robin Haase‘s coach. Topics of conversation bounce around from the merits of Bangkok massages (consensus: walk down the street for a $15 one instead of the expensive hotel one, and I won’t say who initiated the conversation on above- and below-the-trousers massages for which Thailand is so famous for …), Japan vs. Beijing next week (“I like the city of Tokyo, but Beijing is paying $9,000 more for a first round appearance” someone says. Jamie gets ribbed with, “Unless it’s your brother who’d get more than the $16,000,” to everyone’s laughter), and the ethics of entering a country to play a tournament on a tourist visa.
When James Pham isn’t aiming swing volleys directly at opponents, he’s editing a magazine in Saigon, Vietnam and traveling the world as a writer and photographer. He spent his youth ushering tournaments around the Washington D.C. area (and perhaps even skipped school to do so, but don’t tell his mom!) and remembers when the WTA Tour was sponsored by Virginia Slims cigarettes and you had to screw your wooden racquet into its frame after play. He blogs about his on- and off-court adventures at www.flyicarusfly.com.