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France’s Simon shines in the Brisbane sun

BRISBANE: France’s Gilles Simon began his fine-tuning for the Australian Open with a hard-fought win over Colombia’s Alejandro Falla in the second round of the Brisbane International yesterday.
In temperatures as high as 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) on one of the Queensland Tennis Center’s outside courts, Simon edged out Falla in two tiebreak sets 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5).
The third-seeded Simon, a semifinalist in Brisbane last year, was unconcerned about being relegated to one of the minor show courts, albeit one with a roof.
“It was very hot, even with the roof, and it was very difficult playing today,” Simon said. “But that’s good, that’s why I came here. It’s such good preparation for Melbourne.”
Simon had a disappointing Australian Open campaign in 2012, suffering from an injury in the lead-up then falling in the second round to countryman Julien Benneteau.
“I couldn’t play for five days beforehand, then in the first round I went to five sets (against Thailand’s Danai Udomchoke), it just took too much out of me,” he said.
“This year I want to do my best to get my body ready for the Open. In the off season I didn’t work on my game at all because I know that’s in good shape.
“I just wanted to tune up physically.” Falla, the world number 54, took the game right up to the Frenchman, with Simon just edging two fiercely contested tiebreaks.
“Alejandro plays a nice game and he is very difficult to play against,” Simon said.
The Frenchman now plays crowd favorite Marcos Baghdatis, who upset sixth-seeded German Florian Mayer 6-4, 6-2.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the fifth seed, joined Simon and Baghdatis in the quarterfinals with an impressive 6-3, 6-3 win over Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
Fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine progressed when Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen retired with a migraine with Dolgopolov ahead 6-2, 4-1.
Top seed Andy Murray and second-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic both play their second-round matches today after being given first-round byes.
In the women’s section, ever-dissatisfied world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka began her build-up to the Australian Open with an imposing 6-3, 6-3 victory over big-serving Sabine Lisicki yesterday.
The defending Australian Open champion made light work of the German to set up a quarterfinal clash against qualifier Ksenia Pervak.
“I’m such a picky person that I probably never will be satisfied,” Azarenka told reporters.
“That’s a good thing because I have a lot more matches to play and I can always improve. But it was pretty good. I felt like the things that I’ve been working on are there. I’m getting into the competitive groove and I’m happy where I’m at right now.” Azarenka faces a challenge to her top ranking from world No. 2 Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Serena Williams when the Australian Open begins at Melbourne Park on Jan. 14.
“I actually don’t really look at defending anything — I’m just looking to win,” she said.
“I’m going to have the same mindset for as long as I’m playing. That’s what I’m looking forward to — improving my game as I always do and match those big challenges, the big players.
“At the beginning of the year, you’re obviously hungry to play. The atmosphere here in Australia brings out the best in me. The motivation is always extraordinary. I really like it here.” Williams will follow Azarenka on to Pat Rafter Arena today when she plays fellow countrywoman Sloane Stephens.
The powerful and athletic 19-year-old is regarded as the successor to Serena and Venus Williams as the face of American tennis.
“She’s so sweet,” Stephens said of Serena Williams.
“I love her. Obviously she’s been a really great influence on my tennis career. I’m excited to play her and get on the court with her tomorrow. I think it’ll be fun.” Men’s top seeds Andy Murray and Milos Raonic start their campaigns on Thursday against Australia’s John Millman and Bulgarian Grigor Dmitrov respectively.