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Gilles Simon reflects on spending more time with his family during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Message To Dad: 'You're Not My Tennis Coach!'

Former World No. 6 pens a blog about his quarantine

“You’re not my tennis coach!”

I live in Paris with my wife, Carine, and our sons, Timothée and Valentin. But when everything started to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to self-isolate in southern France. The house we stayed at has a tennis court in the backyard, so there was a lot of tennis with the kids. My older son, Timothée, who is 10, likes to remind me that I’m not actually his coach when I tell him something on the court!

That’s how he’s been from the start, so I never got involved with his tennis much. But sometimes he’s happy to play with me because he remembers that I’m a tennis player and thinks maybe I actually know something!

We don’t spend a lot of time at home as tennis players, so unfortunately I’ve missed a lot of things with my kids. Sometimes you leave for a tournament and they are crawling. When you come back, they are walking! You feel like, ‘Oh no, I missed something there.’ But I knew that was the case from the start. When Timothée is 15, I will be 40, so I’ll still be able to do many things with him. I’m 35 now and still competing, so if I waited until the end of my career to start a family, it would’ve been too late.

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During normal time, when I am home for a week off, I really want to focus on things with my kids. But unfortunately, at some point, I have to leave to travel again. That’s what has been so nice about these months. It’s been great to have all this time so I could really work on some things that I wanted to help with, like school for the big one and other things for the little one.

I’ve actually been a teacher more than anything else during the ATP Tour’s suspension. At the beginning it was difficult balancing everything, from helping with school to playing tennis with the kids and handling everything else. But as time went on, it got really good and was a lot of fun. I think it was easier for Timothée to accept that I was teaching him something, because he had no other choice! In general, I try to stay away from their tennis. I watch everything, but I never say anything. I’m always in the background.

It’s funny, but it was not so good on the court by the end for Timothée. He was ready to play with someone else! Even so, I was happy to have the chance to spend a lot of time with him. Now, our club just began opening up, so I was able to bring my kids for their first lesson since the coronavirus started spreading. They are happy — they are not stuck with their father as their coach!

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I haven’t played much myself even with the court in our backyard. I’m the kind of person who needs to know when I’m going to start again to make preparations. I’m not young anymore. It’s not like I can go and practise full-on for four months. I just can’t do it. If I did start like that, I’d be dead and get injured.

My idea was to rest and to try to stay healthy and in good shape and then to have two months to prepare when tournaments begin. I just started two weeks ago very slowly and I’m trying to practise again and I’m going to go more and more.

When the tour resumes, I won’t worry about any specific results. I’m 35, and to me the results are not the most important thing anymore. The main goal is to be happy on the court. I would like to take even more pleasure during the matches. I like to play tennis, I like to practise. This is the sport I will love forever. I often say I might be the person who loves tennis more than anybody. I can watch it at all levels, and I believe everything about the sport is interesting. The only problem is when I play matches.

I have the will to perform as best I can to achieve good things, and sometimes because of that stress and the pressure to play well, the pleasure sometimes disappears. I have too many thoughts of, ‘Hey I want to win. I want to accomplish this, I want to do that.’ I would like to spend more time in the match enjoying what I’m doing.

This is the time in my life when I’m super good at tennis, and that’s a great thing. I need to try to forget the rest. That’s the last goal I have on the tennis court. The results will come, or they will not. But I’m pretty confident if I do things the right way I will have great results. If I don’t, it will almost be the end of my career. Maybe I’ll say, ‘I’ve suffered enough.’

- as told to Andrew Eichenholz

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