Ahead of the French Open, Tramlines had a chance to have a brief exclusive chat with former world number six Gilles Simon.
The 28-year-old told us about the unique pressure that goes with being a Frenchman at Roland Garros, he's own childhood memories of the tournament and what it is like playing in arguably the toughest era in the history of men's tennis.
Tramlines: As a Frenchman with Roland Garros just around the corner it must be an exciting time of the season for you?
Gilles Simon: Yes, of course, it is a very important tournament for me and I'm always excited when it comes around. I'm here in Nice which is another tournament I like to play as a warm-up. I was born here so it is very special for me to be able to play in front of so many friends and family. So it is a great moment in the season.
TL: People say you are one of the more relaxed players on the tour but do you ever suffer from nerves, and is Roland Garros different from the other events?
GS: Yes! Unfortunately of course I suffer from nerves. However, I just try and stay as relaxed as possible. I just try to perform to my ability on the court but it is never easy to find a good balance of being focused and being relaxed at the same time. I just try my best to be balanced, like every player, I don't know what it looks like from the outside but in the inside I do feel nervous at times.
TL: When Wimbledon is on over here in Britain, the entire country, not just tennis fans, is paying attention to the sport. Is it a similar situation in France when Roland Garros is on?
GS: Yes it is. I feel like Roland Garros is a like a party for everyone. I think even the players get very excited whenever there is a chance to play a Slam. For the French players Roland Garros is a little bit different from the other ones, it is even more special, because when I was a kid I was watching this tournament on TV or in the stadium, I wanted to be a tennis player and this is the venue that I really wanted to play at. So every time I get to play on the centre court it is a very nice feeling for me, it is still a bit scary, but it is nice. What is special about this tournament is that it is not just about tennis – so many people are here just for the event and they discover the sport through that and it gives it a different feel from other tournaments on the tour.
TL: In Britain there is lots of media pressure on Andy Murray when Wimbledon comes along as he is the country's only real contender. Is it easier for a Frenchman at Roland Garros because there are so many of you in or around the top 50? Do you take support from each other?
GS: I think the media sometimes believes that we feel pressure because they are putting it on us to impress, but this really is not true. If Andy has pressure at Wimbledon it is not because everybody else wants him to win but because HE wants to win. He wants to win this tournament more than the others and that is the same for us French players at Roland Garros. You might have 15 Frenchman in the top 100, and even if we are ranked in the 60s or the 80s, you could say there is no pressure because nobody is expecting you to win but at the end of the day, there is a lot of pressure, because you just want to put in a good performance. The biggest pressure you have is the one you put on your own shoulders and for this there is no extra help having 15 other Frenchmen in the draw instead of just one like Andy has at Wimbledon.
TL: It is a golden era for men's tennis at the moment with potentially four all-time greats currently playing. Are you glad you get to play in this era or do you sometimes wish you were born 10 years earlier when it might have been easier to win big tournaments?
GS: I have mixed feelings about this. I'm very lucky I get to play against Roger Federer – who has gone down in the record books as the greatest player in history and I get to play Rafa on clay who is of course the best player on that surface ever. You feel like it is a huge challenge when you have to compete against these guys like Novak when he wins over 40 matches in a row, you feel like you have played against the best player that could possibly be in front of you. And every time you manage to beat one of these guys, you feel so proud you managed to do it, and it is a really nice feeling. But then on the other hand it makes it very complicated to win some tournaments, especially the biggest ones, because they are competing so hard for them every time. In the past, you always had guys outside of the top 10 who were able to get to Grand Slam finals and sometimes win them but now it is almost always about these four guys when it comes to the big finals. So I'm a bit sad that we have FOUR of them – I think one of two would have been enough!
TL: You said you watched the French Open a lot as a kid. Are the any moments in the tournament in particular that inspired you to become a tennis player?
GS: I went to watch many matches at Roland Garros so I have many special memories in my head. One match that sticks out though was one year I got see Thomas Muster defeat Andre Agassi (in 1994). It was really exciting match and the atmosphere was electric, I was there inside the stadium thinking: this is the court where I want to play, as there was just such a special feeling in the stands.
TL: What is your aim for the rest of the season - can you overtake the big four and claim one of the big tournaments? Is that the aim?
GS: Of course, my aim is win the biggest titles possible. To reach that you have to defeat these four guys. I was close to defeating Andy just two weeks ago and I always look forward to claiming a great victory over one of these top guys because I know when you get one it is a lot easier to get a second one. It is a long time since I've beaten one of them so I really feel I need to get one victory over one of these four guys and then something good could happen.
TL: Are you looking forward to the grass court season once Roland Garros is finished?
GS: Yes, I like to play on grass although unfortunately I'm usually very tired after the clay court season. I will try to do better with my fitness this year though.
TL: And would you like if there were a few more grass court tournaments?
GS: Yes, I think we are going to have another week on the grass in a year or two which is good news as we have a Slam on grass so it is important part of the season and two tournaments to prepare is not enough. So it would be great to have at least one more week on grass.
HEAD Tennis has joined (RED) and the fight against AIDS with the launch of a HEAD (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition bag collection. Marin Cilic / Gilles Simon is one of 75 players who will carry the (HEAD)RED Special Edition racquet bag at the French Open. For further information go to http://head.com/red