by Kevin Craig
Gilles Simon gave Novak Djokovic everything he could handle on Sunday at the Australian Open, but in the end it was the Serb who was able to come through after a five set battle that lasted more than four and a half hours. Despite losing 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, Simon was able to provide many challenges for Djokovic and perhaps created the blueprint for how to stop the No. 1 player in the world.
The entire match was tightly contested, including the first set despite the overall lower quality of play. It appeared as if Djokovic would roll through another easy win early on as he dominated his first two service games and broke at love to take a 3-1 lead. It was then that Simon proved he would make things difficult as he broke back immediately and went on to have four break chances in Djokovic’s 3-3 service game that lasted 20 points. Djokovic was able to fight through that game to get the hold, and then break in the next game as Simon let the disappoint of not converting on the break points linger, eventually leading to a 6-3 first set win for the Serb.
Djokovic completely controlled the second set, only losing five points on serve, until the tiebreak. Simon, who saved 10 break points and had to play 25 more service points in the second set than Djokovic did, felt a sense of relief as he made it through the set and showed that in the tiebreak as he loosened up and only lost one point.
Djokovic was able to settle back down in the third set and broke Simon in his first service game, running out to a 3-0 lead. Simon, just like in the first set, made things difficult for Djokovic though, as he bounced back and broke to get the set back on serve at 3-2. Each player looked confident on their serves throughout the rest of the set, until Djokovic found a break point at 5-4 and pounced on it to win the set.
Once again, Simon put his persistent style of play on display as he looked in control in the second set. It started early as Simon played only 10 service points in his first two games compared to Djokovic’s 24, allowing Simon to look at five break points. He was unsuccessful in converting those break chances, but did go on to earn two more later in the set. Simon converted on his seventh break point of the set to go up 5-4 and went on to serve out the set, taking the match to a decider.
In the fifth set, Djokovic played his best tennis, racing out to a double break lead at 5-1. He was unsuccessful at serving out the match the first time as Simon just would not go away, but the Serb held on and served out the match at 5-3 for the five set win.
Djokovic was pleased with the win, but disappointed in his quality of play. The credit has to be given to Simon as he was able to force Djokovic into making exactly 100 unforced errors after he made less than 80 in the first three rounds combined. The errors matched with an unsuccessful break point conversion rate of less than 25 percent would normally lead to a loss for most other players, but the No. 1 player in the world was able to find a way to tough out the valiant effort from Simon.
Djokovic will hope to bounce back to his normal quality of play as he takes on Kei Nishikori, who is coming off a win in which he handily beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets, in the quarterfinals. Nishikori will be looking to repeat his form from when he beat Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2014 US Open in hopes of pulling off another major upset.