By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Gilles Simon will carry the distinction of being the first man to prise a set off Novak Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open but the lion-hearted Frenchman was crushed after going down in a five-set classic on Sunday.
Simon played a sublime match, returning with venom and scrambling hard for every ball before the defending champion and world number one found another gear to close it out 6-3 6-7(1) 6-4 4-6 6-3 in the twilight at Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s always a bad feeling when you lose in five,” 31-year-old Simon told reporters.
“Always like when you play so long, you feel so many things are happening on the court.
“So many things could have been different. Just couldn’t make it today.”
Djokovic racked up exactly 100 unforced errors and a video review of some of his drop-shot attempts would make painful viewing for the Serb.
But the statistic was testament to Simon’s counter-punching game and proof that his plan to beat Djokovic was sound, if not successful, the Frenchman said.
“I know exactly what I was doing, but I won’t say it. I had a plan. I mean, I know him well,” he said.
“We all know which player he is and how hard it is to find any solution against him, to somehow stop the fight and feel better on the court.
“I think I worked on it good today. He made 100 unforced. That’s a good number for me, not for him. But fortunately one more time was not enough.”
Although pushing the Serb, Simon was often unable to conjure the killer blows needed on the big points and admitted he was up against it without the power hitting of a player like Stan Wawrinka, who upset five-times Melbourne Park champion Djokovic on the way to the 2014 title.
“I have to find my own way to do it. Like I wish I could hit like Stan, but that’s far from being the case,” he added.
“I know a lot of players wanted me to win this match. A lot of players will feel better with Novak out of the draw.
“He’s improving year after year. That’s terrible to say because he’s already number one.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)