Meanwhile, the French captain Guy Forget, close to an institution in his 12th season in the post, has been told to back off and hold the courtside advice by a player, Gilles Simon, who has yet to win a Davis Cup match that mattered.
That Simon remains in the French lineup for Friday’s opening day of play against Austria speaks volumes about France’s current predicament. Its top three players — Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Richard Gasquet — are all missing with injuries, and Monfils and Gasquet would have been particularly useful on the indoor clay court that the Austrians have installed near Vienna.
Not with Austria’s top player, the 10th-ranked Jürgen Melzer, in the best phase of his long career and strong enough on clay to have reached the French Open semifinals last year. Simon, a former top 10 player himself, is still counterpunching his way back up the rankings after a chronic knee problem. Though he has won three minor tournaments on clay, he has had his most impressive results on hardcourts and was in rare form at the Australian Open this year, pushing Roger Federer to a fifth set before losing in the second round.
For now, however, he remains an underachiever in the game’s premier team competition. He has lost all three of his live Davis Cup singles matches and was beaten soundly by Djokovic on the first day of the final last year in Belgrade. The Serbs ultimately won 3-2 as Forget passed over Simon in favor of Michaël Llodra for the decisive fifth match and then saw Llodra get picked apart in a hurry by Viktor Troicki on the relatively slow indoor court.
Simon, who had a 4-0 record against Troicki, was far from delighted. Forget, despite receiving no shortage of criticism in France for his overall management of the final, received a two-year contract extension.
Simon’s straight-set defeat in Belgrade certainly looks better now, in light of Djokovic’s 12-0 record so far this year. But Simon certainly exposed himself further by giving Forget marching orders during a long interview conducted in Dubai and published this week by the French sports daily L’Equipe.
Simon said he had spoken with Forget at the Australian Open and asked him to change his approach during matches by not offering any more tactical advice. “Or he should spend more time watching how I win matches,” Simon said. “Guy’s vision is proactive. I play more in reaction.
“Guy was an attacking player. He won the Davis Cup and the Paris indoors by attacking, so that’s his perception of the game. I respect it, but it doesn’t correspond at all to my way of playing. When I beat Rafael Nadal in 2008, Guy only noticed my two or three rushes to the net near the end. He told me, ‘You see! It’s like that you beat him!’ But no. In that match, I ran everywhere. Kilometers! Guy remembers the winners but not the mistakes I made the other guy make.”
In the interview, Simon also criticized the atmosphere in the French squad, saying that players often failed to respect team rules or think collectively. Simon might be correct — he is one of the game’s more perceptive and articulate players at the moment — but making his gripes public presumably did little for team morale.
He has since lashed out at L’Equipe, claiming its reporter failed to preserve the spirit of the interview.