The "translation" of the article in Libé before Bercy:
As expected, it was too complicated for me. A lot of things sound a bit weird in French too, I don't even always get what the author and Gilles himself say in French, which didn't help to translate it. But the article isn't that great anyway. The last paragraph is the most interesting one imo, you can forget about the rest if the English version really is "unreadable" sometimes.
The article isn't very accurate either, there are a few mistakes (like about the mother). Libé isn't a sports newspaper, it's a pretty big daily newspaper which has every day a "portrait" on the last page. I like this column a lot most of the time, so I'm glad Gilles got the honour of the last page of Libé, even if his "portrait" isn't the best one.
I skipped the title because I didn't know how to translate it ("Passé au tamis" means "thoroughly vetted", but it's also a pun with "tamis" = "racket head").
Big thanks to the people who helped me, especially with the translation of the word "fantasmatique" (= "fantastical")!
Gilles Simon, world number 12, playing in Bercy this week, shows himself to be open, thoughtful, intense.
The first encounter with a tennis player always is an ethereal, dreamlike ("fantastical") experience. July 2008. While the world is turned towards Beijing and the next Olympic Games, a 23-year-old French tennis player, all dressed in white, knocks down the king Federer in a cool evening in Toronto, where the flower of world tennis is getting ready for the US Open. The image: tall, as thin as two matchsticks, a mischievousness showing through his self-control – if you knew how great it feels, guys… – and a press conference he makes last as long as he can between the hold-up and the promises at dawn. The second encounter: two wonderful sentences in the French newspaper Le Monde which say a lot about sports and its seductive power: “If my coach only tells me ‘play your forehand there’, I’ll play my forehand where I want to play it. When you reach a certain level, the coach isn’t necessarily more competent than his pupil.” Welcome into the sparkling world of Gilles Simon, world number 12.
We lay our hands on the guy during the tournament of Lyon in a tiny room with no windows. Gilles Simon arrives, leaves, comes back, leaves again to scour the corridors in search of candy, finds some, collapses with his 1,85 m onto the sofa, sounds surprised. “People tell me: ‘You’re always off to another place, I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes.’ But that’s not the life I’m living. I sleep ten hours at night. I spend my days waiting at the hotel. We’ve got so much time to kill… Being stay-at-home gives you an advantage in tennis. It’s the right job for you then.”
That was the third encounter. The eyes are bright, with a slight defiant note we don't get immediately – we’ll come back to that later. We have an excuse: in the world of sports, where saying one word too much is as frightening a prospect as losing a match, a meeting with Gilles Simon is close to an extrasensory experience. He has nothing to sell (and especially not himself), nothing to fear, no message to put across, no reserve on any topic. Therefore, we get lost in an intense and contradictory field where his words sometimes are faster than his thoughts. The core of his speech reveals a high level: he has the humility of a guy who fought to obtain everything he has and the XXL ego of a world number 12 – nothing midway.
About music. “I learned the piano during 7 years at the music school of Aulnay-sous-Bois. It isn't comparable with tennis at all: when you work on a piece of music, the way is all mapped out and predictable. My brother chose the saxophone. My parents wanted us to do many things, no matter what. A lot of work and rigour, practicing scales for years… Hard stuff. I wouldn’t dare to judge the performance of a pianist playing a sonata. But I still have a good ear. I love music.”
About his talent at the PlayStation, disclosed by Gaël Monfils whom he always beats: “It’s useless. But I’m a playful guy. Whatever I have in the hands, a game controller or anything else...”
About politics: “There’s nothing better if you want to understand how the world works. I have a lot of respect for it. In order to be successful in politics, you must have studied, have charisma… But it looks like a big playground, ‘Prof, he copied, he was not nice to me!’ The speech of a politician is overdetermined by the line of his party, he can’t get off it, we all know it. Most topics don't call for a debate, for example the ecology. And yet, there never is any consensus. The media tirelessly scrutinize the politicians, the images and the words go around in real time. It forces the politicians to adopt behaviours and instinctive reactions they can't get rid of anymore.”
And last but not least, about himself. “My father was a reinsurer, my mother an engineer: nobody at home knew how to succeed in sports. We had to devise, to give us time, not knowing why. I’ve never been in the top 5 of any age group. When I was 14 years old, I was 1,53 m tall and I weighed 38 kg. I had to find solutions. Those [that is the entire tennis world, actually – editor’s note] who say that I have a lot of self-confidence don't know me. I’m not Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. I need to get my fingers burnt to understand that I shouldn’t have put them there. But that’s how I’ve always progressed.” Going into the wind, today as well as yesterday.
Gilles Simon went his path under the gaze of coaches who were not very fond of the player – “we always wondered how he managed to speed up the ball with his small build”, says one of his coaches at the Pôle France of Poitiers –, but showed great respect for the mix of nerve, insolence and keenness of the boy. One story says it all: Thierry Tulasne, his current coach, says he became aware of the potential of the lad… by playing cards with him in Doha in 2003. The mother concisely expressed her feelings once in l’Equipe: “When I see all the humiliations he’s experienced, I find that the high-level sport sometimes was cruel to him.” And it keeps up, mezza voce
now that the scalps of Federer or Nadal hang at his belt. When Simon reached the Masters of Shanghai at the end of 2008 – the Masters is by definition a tournament with the 8 best players in the world only –, some players reckoned that they would soon be ‘oil barons’ themselves. Tulasne said once: “Gilles' normality makes him abnormal.” We’re getting closer and closer to the point. Tsonga is psychologically indestructible, a sort of inverse mirror of his easily damaged body. Monfils learned how to hide his shyness and his need to be reassured under his athleticism and the gesticulations of the showman. Richard Gasquet was a star by the age of 10. The story of Gilles Simon is the story of a guy who is curious about everything and good at everything - golf handicap of 15 at the age of 12, excellent swimmer, talented for the piano, good student - and who’s cut down the scope of his expression as he got better in tennis. That’s the price he paid for it.
As for the rest, we got in last minute the explanation of this slight defiance. Before leaving, we asked him about the worst thing he’s ever read or heard about him. His face suddenly hardened. “’You won’t succeed.’ You should never say that to someone.” OK, but maybe his propensity to prove people around him wrong precisely helped him to… “Sure, to contradict people, ‘I’ll show you all’.” Silence. He’s balancing. For a few seconds. And then it topples over: “No way. That’s not how it works. The more people will tell you that you’re going to fail, the more you will believe it and the more you will fail. That
is the truth. But what are you thinking?“ He’s angry. The airy ("fantastical") tennis player is back into reality.