Xavier Malisse of Belgium showed a mixture of defiance and belief to defeat 13th seed Gilles Simon of France in the second round at Wimbledon today and echo his best year in the Championships when he was a semi-finalist in 2002.
Malisse seized the chance to beat Simon in their first match on grass, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(5), in two and a half hours on No.3 Court where the fierce midday sun added to the demands of the day. Malisse led from the start and frustration mounted for Simon who was never in command of the scoring sequence.
The match set equal demands on both players. Rallies were often long and intensely fought and Malisse played with such determination to take command that there was little that Simon could do to break him as the match developed. In these conditions Malisse knew that he had to win in three sets.
At 39 minutes, the first set was the shortest. But Malisse, ranked No.75 in the world, punched above his weight to win it on a single break of serve in the 10th game. There had been no break points earlier but the 31-year-old Malisse struck decisively at 5-4, running hard to hit a cross-court forehand winner for set point and then forcing a forehand error from Simon.
The first seven games of the second set were compelling. Malisse took Simon’s first service in the second game, was broken in the next game when Simon hit a fine backhand service winner down the line, and the points remained tightly contested until Simon was broken to love in the 10th game. Malisse was ahead by two sets after 99 minutes.
In the third, Simon broke serve to lead 2-1 but Malisse levelled in the eighth game. By now both players had matched up to the demands and a tie-break was inevitable.
Simon won the first two points, only to double fault. And the door closed on him as Malisse shut down his opportunities, winning on his first match point when Simon missed a forehand.
“It was a weird third set because he broke me, then I broke him, then he broke me again,”said Malisse. “He served a couple of good games, my legs were a little tight in those games.I didn’t get much out of the serve. Then I started serving better again, going harder.
“I put everything into the tie-break. Even at four all we played a point of, I think, 30 shots. I didn’t want to give up because I knew how important it was to win the third set and luckily I got away with it.”
In his 12 appearances at Wimbledon, Malisse had his best year in 2002 with a semi final appearance when he was beaten by David Nalbandian on No.1 Court, where the match was switched because of rain.
At Wimbledon last year, Malisse reached the last 16 and became Belgium’s most successful player in terms of Grand Slam wins. And he is not finished yet.
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