Sat, Nov 15, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Simon beats Stepanek as Bjorkman says farewell

AP , SHANGHAI

Gilles Simon of France returns a shot to Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Gilles Simon beat Radek Stepanek 6-1, 6-4 yesterday at the Masters Cup, then had to wait and see if he would advance to the semi-finals.

The match was essentially meaningless, because Roger Federer was facing Andy Murray in the later match.

Federer, the four-time Masters Cup champion, needed to beat Murray to advance.

But if he lost, Simon would be through, regardless of what he had done against Stepanek. Simon beat Federer in their opening Red Group match.

The 26th-ranked Stepanek — added to the eight-man draw when Andy Roddick pulled out on Wednesday with a sprained ankle — already had been eliminated.

“It was easier tonight because my match was not really important,” said the ninth-ranked Simon, who got in when a sore knee forced top-ranked Rafael Nadal to pull out of the season-ending tournament before it began.

Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko have qualified from the Gold Group.

Stepanek was out of sorts from the beginning. The Czech player got in only three first serves in his first three service games, double-faulting three times. He won just 13 points total in seven games in the 25-minute first set — and eight of those were on unforced errors by Simon.

Another double-fault set up Simon’s third service break to open the second set. The Frenchman, who never faced break-point, then held the rest of the way.

The crowd, hoping Stepanek could make a match of it, were cheering loudly on every point he won, but there were too few. On match point, he returned a serve at his body with his racket in front of his face, and when Simon pounded a deep approach shot, Stepanek hit a one-bouncer into the net.

Meanwhile, Jonas Bjorkman played his last match yesterday.

He and teammate Kevin Ullyet lost in a tiebreaker to the Polish pair of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, eliminating them from the Masters Cup.

“I still think it’s great to end my career in the biggest event of the year,” said the 36-year-old Swede, who won three straight Wimbledon doubles titles with Australia’s Todd Woodbridge and reached a singles ranking high of No. 4 in 1997.

“I was trying to do everything possible to stay alive [for] one other day, or maybe two. But you can’t get everything.”

There were no tears as Bjorkman was honored after the match with a montage of career highlights on the stadium big-screen TVs and given a huge bouquet of flowers.

“I’ve been mentally prepared for this because I’m mentally very ready to retire,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to play for so long. It started as my hobby and I’ve been able to do it for 17 years, which is great. I’m really looking forward for the next step in life.”

Bjorkman, who announced retirement plans at Wimbledon, has been a durable fixture on the men’s tour, competing in 58 of the last 60 Grand Slams, missing only the 2003 and this year’s Australian Opens for the births of son Max and daughter Bianca. A more normal life is looking pretty good.

“I think the traveling is the one that’s been the toughest in the end, obviously when you do have a family that can’t go with you all the time,” Bjorkman said. “That is something that’s been quite tough. You miss so many friends’ weddings, great occasions for parties and everything back home with your friends. Now you can be part of that a little bit.”

Still, he will miss hanging around with the other players.

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