Meet the new, chill Benoit Paire (maybe?)

(Update: Paire has been chuntering – great British word – up a storm against chair umpire Carlos Bernardes during this third-round match against Juan Martin del Potro Saturday. Totally losing it).

WIMBLEDON – At age 29, in his 12th year as a pro, mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire says he’s finally figured it out.

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And he pointed to a moment, early in the second set of his eventual 06 62 64 76 (3) victory over No. 26 seed Denis Shapovalov Thursday when the “old Benoit” would have lost it.

Paire had lost the first seven games of the match (the sixth, with which Shapovalov closed out a bagel first set, was a particular masterpiece of the genre).

And then, he was called for a time violation.

Not being a fellow who takes a lot of time between points – ever – he felt that the “two seconds” he went over because the ball boy was slow to send him the extra balls he asked for probably deserved a mulligan.

“That’s where I feel like I’m progressing,  I’m losing 6-0 1-0, and three or four years ago I would have been insulting everyone – my whole box, saying ‘it’s over, it’s total s**t’. These last few years I have had a lot of support from the people with me. which has done me a lot of good, and made me aware of a lot of things. I would have liked to figure it out earlier, of course, but I’m happy to do it now,” Paire said.

Told him, and told him again

The first thing you hear if you ever ask someone about Paire – especially other players – is how talented he is. The second thing is how nuts he is. Or sometimes it’s the “crazy” first, and then the “crazy talented.”

More often than not, he has gotten in his own way. His meltdown resumé is lengthy.

(Just three of dozens; click here for more)

It’s not as though Paire wasn’t aware. And it’s not as though everyone around him hadn’t constantly been telling him he was only hurting himself.

But he just couldn’t help himself.

“I talked to Edouard (close friend Édouard Roger-Vasselin), Jean-Charles (Diame, a former Fresno State player who often travels with him) other coaches in the past, my girlfriends – there have been lots of discussions on this subject. And I finally realized that it just had to click inside, if I just kept repeating it over and over again,” he said. “I knew they were right. I think back on it now and I think, “Damn, you were right. But I didn’t feel able to do it at that time. And now I really feel like I can.”

Paire said the light bulb went on this year, in Madrid, where he celebrated his 29th birthday.

“I don’t know. It seems natural now to be that way now – and it seems idiotic when I see people who get all annoyed (on court),” he said. “It’s weird. It’s like when you talk about the serve, you make one or two adjustments. But it took years for me to tell myself, all of a sudden, ‘C’mon Benoit, stop.’ “

Paire said it’s something that, to his surprise, comes naturally. He’s not telling himself to calm down. He’s not urging himself to be positive. He just does it.

nIf he’s down (as he was against Shapovalov), he said he’s trying to find solutions, to encourage himself.

The “Eureka” moment came at the end of a tough period for Paire. He was traveling alone – which he hated, because it left him alone with his thoughts. His back was an ongoing issue. He felt lonely. And he said in an interview with l’Équipe that he’s the kind of guy who, if he’s unhappy in his personal life, he’s unhappy in his tennis.

Direct, proportional correlation

Paire said there’s nothing better than sharing the great moments with the one you love. But either she has to make the sacrifice and put her career on hold to support him, or she can’t be with him all the time and you have to try to make a long-distance relationship work.

In Madrid, he had a catharsis. He bought a sketch pad, and even had one of the designs he drew tattooed on his forearm. He went with the drastic color change on his hair.

And he started reading a lot of books.

“I was trying to find (the stories) of people who experienced some of the same things I have. Not necessarily very happy topics, but they did me some good,” he said.

Somehow, he says he got there.

“Since Madrid, I’m really different, and I’m happy about it,” he said.

Newly-minted grass aficionado

And now, Paire is in the third round of Wimbledon, on a surface he was convinced for so many years that he hated.

“It’s a surface I like now, and enjoy it. Even if I took a (bagel) today. I enjoy hitting some little trick shots, some serve-volley. And on top of that I do this on other surfaces. So I don’t know why from the beginning I said I didn’t like it, because I have a game that adapts well to grass,” he said. “I don’t know. I was young, I was stupid at times.”

From his typically French, encyclopedic memory of the match against Shapovalov, Paire pointed out that a double fault to start the eighth game was particularly untimely.

But when he got to 30-15 … “It was like I’d already won the match. I screamed, just to relax myself a little bit, to find a rhythm,” he said. “When I’m feeling good, I feel like it’s easy to serve. But in that first set, I felt like it was tough to serve. I was throwing the ball too far in front. I was questioning myself.”

Paire said two or three words from Diame, from former coach Thierry Champion, did a lot of good, “got his head back on straight.”

“Even if it’s one word. The confidence came back because I know I can serve well,” Paire said.

(And no, we pass no judgment on the fact that this would be considered on-court coaching).

We’ll see if the “new” Paire can keep his momentum going in his third-round match Saturday, which will be against No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro.

Paire gets a two-cheeker hello from countryman Richard Gasquet, the Saturday before the start of Wimbledon on the practice court. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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