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Best of Three: Big names back in action, Simon triumphs at Metz


1. Break time: For all the gripes about the schedule, it's easy to forget just how many soft "pockets" exist throughout the year. Since the U.S. Open ended two weeks ago, virtually no top player has been in action. An early loser such as Andy Roddick hasn't played in upwards of a month. Today, it's back to work for the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur (in Tokyo) as well as for Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, et al., in Bangkok. As a bonus, Juan Martin del Potro makes his return at the Thailand event as well. No one is dismissing the demands made on top players, especially given the travel time and distance. But it's worth remembering that a lot of athletes would kill for a few weeks of down time in the middle of a season.

2. Meet the Metz: Some paternity leave, that was. Last time we saw Gilles Simon, the Frenchman was leaving the U.S. Open and jetting back to France to be with his newborn son, who arrived earlier than anticipated. Perhaps galvanized by the price of college tuition (or simply in search of a good night's sleep), Simon was back on the circuit last week, leaving mere and bebe, entering the Metz event and winning the seventh title on his career. Well done. Other notable results from Metz (or Los Metz, as Omar Minaya would say): Jamaica's Dustin Brown, who won many fans at the Open, teamed with the ageless Roger Wassen to take the doubles. The annus awfulabis of Marin Cilic continued, as he lost early to Philllip Kohlschreiber.

3. Back in Bangkok: A recurring theme here: sports careers -- tennis careers in particular -- tend not to be linear. A year ago Grigor Dimitrov was the flavor of the month, a versatile, flashy Bulgarian teenager obligatorily referred to as "the next Federer" or "the Federer in waiting." That he was coached by Peter Lundgren, Federer's aide-de-camp at the onset of his pro career, only made the comparisons more enticing. A few months ago, those comparisons seemed laughable, as Dimitrov was struggling to win matches, his ranking approximating Ichiro Suzuki's batting average -- .340 or so. Suddenly, over the past two months, Dimitrov looks like a world beater again. He's won 27 of his 28 matches and three straight ATP Challenger events, including a Bangkok tournament last weekend, beating Dmitry Tursunov among others. He's now closing in on the Top 100 and, at age 19, he is back among the prospects. Keep an eye on him in 2011.