September 26, 2010

Remember Me?

With all the hoopla surrounding the successful summer of Rafael Nadal and the comeback of Juan Martin Del Potro this week, it's easy to have missed two champions who put their names back on the radar on Sunday.

Thirty-one year old Juan Ignacio Chela has never been one skirt controversy. Once ranked as high as #15 in the world, he was suspended for three months in 2003 for using steroids in Cincinnati and once almost spat at Lleyton Hewitt during an Australian Open match. But since he was sidelined with a herniated disc two years ago, he hasn't made much of a dent on the Tour. This year he finally broke a three-year title drought in Houston, and handily beat Nikolay Davydenko in Umag back in July.

This week in Bucharest, the fourth seeded Argentine was nearly flawless. He lost only a game in his opener against Simon Greul and capitalized on his opponent's long quarterfinal match when he took out top seed Albert Montanes in the semis. Playing in only his second final since 2007 today against qualifier Pablo Andujar, he should have been the easy favorite, but after the two traded breaks to begin the match it looked like it could be a close one. Ultimately, though, the veteran was able to raise his play in the second set and took less than ninety minutes to capture his sixth career title.

It hasn't been quite as long since Gilles Simon has been out of the tennis elite -- the twenty-five year old spent much of last year in the top ten, but hadn't reached a Tour semifinal since Lyon last October. A persistent knee injury kept him from playing in Australia this year and the entire European clay court season, including the French Open. He had a disappointing summer as well, losing in the first round in both Toronto and Cincinnati, but started to show signs of his former greatness by helping France to a 5-0 drubbing of Argentina in the Davis Cup semis.

Having fallen out of the top forty for the first time since 2007, Simon came to Metz as the eighth seed. He had a solid first round, but struggled against qualifier Igor Sijsling and veteran Xavier Malisse in the quarters. But when he met Mischa Zverev in his first final since Bangkok last year, he was back in form. The five-foot-eleven Frenchman fired off nine aces and won more than eighty percent of his first serve. Saving the only break point he faced, Gilles took just over an hour to record the win, his first over the German who'd beaten him two times before, and lift the seventh title of his career.

It might be a little late in the year, but there's still plenty of action left in tennis, and it's nice to see these guys reasserting themselves on the court. And with a couple more trophies on each of their mantlepieces, both Chela and Simon have reminded us of just how big a force they can -- and probably will -- be again.

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