There is something about the flamboyance and carefree attitude of Benoit Paire that catches your attention. It’s evident on the practice courts – where he has been hitting with Belgium’s Steve Darcis – his doubles partner for the week – as he kicks the ball around in frustration at times. And then at other times, he would whip back low returns from the back of the court for a nonchalant winner. And that ‘chilled’ attitude is reflected during the matches too with hundreds in attendance.
The latter was case in point on Thursday against Yuki Bhambri. The Delhi player, returning from a tennis elbow injury that kept him out of action for six months, fought tooth and nail but couldn’t undo the magic of the Frenchman. In the end, the World No 47 Paire would come out victorious by a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline.
Such are his problems with concentration that he has employed former boxer Brahim Asloum as his fitness coach. And his reasoning for it might leave you confused for it has nothing to do with the fitness levels that boxers need to be under. “You must remain focused every time or you get hit. For me it is important to stay focused or I lose concentration. I did that today also but I managed to stay in it somehow,” he would state later.
In the hour and 26 minute long contest at the Chennai Open, there would be multiple faces of Paire on display. There would be one that throws rackets around after errors, would argue with chair umpire for absurd reasons, and let the ball go behind him for a winner while he thought his serve had landed for a fault. Then there would also be a Paire who would play out a whole service game, at love, without the need of the ball bouncing on return, produce an exquisite drop shot with a split second change of grip and if that wasn’t enough, he would change his shot from a smash to a comfortable drop shot at the blink of an eye.
On the grand scheme of things, it would take him just two breaks of serves – in either set – to pick up the win and set up a contest against the victor of AlijazBedene and Martin Klizan.
If the sheer brilliance from the back or at the net wouldn’t suffice, he would up the game with his big serving game. And that would come in extra handy in the second game of the second set. Facing two break points, Bhambri would hit two errors on his backhand, and then squander another chance with yet another error on his backhand. But, it was Paire’s serve that would get him out of the cage. He would produce 204kmph, 202kmph and 196kmph serves – two of them aces – to hold on. In the end, Paire would face seven break points and save them all. Bhambri would later admit that he had the chances but failed to make the most of them. “I had lots of chances. In the second game of the second set, ninth game of the first set. I would like to take the positives from this. It was a hard match and from my side a good match. I made him sweat and it isn’t easy to do that to a top-50 player in the world,” he would claim in the post-match press conference.
Bhambri would hand the crucial break in the second set in the fifth game with a forehand into the net and would let out a huge scream of frustration at the end. In the first set, on the other hand, the mistakes from Bhambri’s racket would come in the very first service game. The now 474th ranked Bhambri would send his backhand long and hand the Frenchman an early advantage, which he wouldn’t squander.
Fittingly too, Paire would close out both sets with an ace – 192kmph in the first and a 166kmph in the second – to help his tally of 12 aces in the contest.
In other singles contests on the day, Roberto Bautista Agut would beat Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-3, 6-2 while Mikhail Youzhny would have the better of Renzo Olivo 6-1, 7-5 on Court 1.