Frenchman Gilles Simon made a stunning Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai debut on Monday, recovering from a set and a break down to defeat ATP World No. 2 and four-time champion Roger Federer 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the first Red Group round robin match.
The victory marks Simon’s 50th ATP match win (50-25 record) of a career-best season that has seen him break into the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings courtesy of winning three titles from four finals.
The 23-year-old Simon leads the ATP circuit with 14 match wins after losing the opening set and was forced to also recover from a break down in the second set in Monday’s daunting finale debut against Federer.
Four-time Masters Cup champion Federer stamped his authority early on the match, breaking in the fifth game to lead 3-2 and going on to close out the set with a second serve ace to seal it 6-4.
The match looked to be heading in the direction of the Swiss as he broke in the third game of the second set to lead 2-1 when Simon netted a forehand. However, Simon immediately leveled with a rifling backhand up the line to force the error from Federer. Forehand errors proved costly for Federer throughout the match and one such wayward shot cost the US Open champion the chance to regain the advantage on break point at 3-3.
Simon too missed chances, but his did not prove so detrimental as he was presented with a set point with Federer serving at 4-5 and he converted with great defensive play before scrambling a backhand volley past Federer.
In a third set full of momentum changes, Federer faced three break points at 2-3 before winning the next eight points to create the same opportunity on the Simon serve. The Frenchman responded in kind though to hold serve before getting a key break through in Federer’s ensuing service game, firing a forehand winner to gain a 5-3 lead. The Nice native then produced a nerveless display in the final game, sealing victory with his seventh ace after 2 hr., 7 min.
It is the second time that Simon has prevailed against Federer, having also done so at Masters Series Toronto in August, when he once again triumphed after recovering from a one set deficit.
"It's always hard to win against Federer. I know that I have to play my best tennis," said Simon. "But in another way, it's easier for me because I have no question in any head. I just want to give everything, every point to my best tennis to win. It's easier to play in that way.
"I defeated him once in Toronto, so it was easier to finish the match. I had no complex when I served in the last game. And, for sure, it was one of the best victory of my career."
The No. 2 French player (behind Tsonga), who is ninth in the ATP 2008 Race, gained late entry into the elite circuit-finale when No. 1 Rafael Nadal was forced to withdraw. On Monday evening he was watched by French golfer Thomas Levet, who was participating in the European PGA Tour event in Shanghai over the weekend.
This season he has titled at Casablanca (d. Benneteau), won his first title on U.S. soil in Indianapolis (d. Tursunov) and triumphed at Bucharest (d. Moya). He also finished runner-up in his first ATP Masters Series final at Madrid (l. to Murray).
The 27-year-old Federer, who surrendered his 237-week reign at the top of the South African Airways ATP Rankings to Rafael Nadal on August 18, dropped to a 65-14 match record on the season.
"The better you play, the better he plays," said Federer."He's quite a unique player and he makes you work hard and runs very well. He's unusual to play against.
"Definitely today shots maybe I miss I normally don't miss. I think that's just lack of practice and just uncertainty where my back was today. All this comes together at the end the day, sometimes against top players it's not enough. Now at least I have a match under my belt, especially three sets, and I hope I can play better in the next match."