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.

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)

Mahut, Benneteau left out as DC draw made

Yannick Noah, the captain of Team France, brought six players with him to Lille.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille were pretty much locks to play the singles. The burning question was, who would he line up in doubles?

That question was answered at the draw Thursday.

And the two oldest members of the team, Nicolas Mahut and Julien Benneteau, will be on the sidelines cheering as Noah selected Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert for the other two spots on the four-man roster.

For Mahut, it has to be a major blow. Mahut and Herbert were 3-0 this season in Davis Cup, defeating Japan, Great Britain and Serbia with the total loss of only one set.

For Belgium, there wasn’t the same embarrassment of riches.

David Goffin will be expected to win both his singles matches, with Steve Darcis playing No. 2.

The two other Belgian players are Ruben Bemelmans and Joris de Loore.

The Belgians will be counting on David Goffin to post two good singles wins – a big ask after a very long season on the ATP Tour.

The best, most accomplished doubles tandem on the French side is Herbert and Mahut. The pair qualified for the ATP Tour Finals together last week, and Herbert had a lower back issue there that hastened their withdrawal from the event.

Doubles experience lacking

Still, during the three days of practice this week, Mahut and Benneteau were playing doubles together. The logical conclusion was that the two might be the two selected for the crucial doubles rubber on Saturday.

They also have a lot of experience together.

benneteau

But no; Herbert and Gasquet are the selections for doubles (although it’s always possible Noah may make substitutions before Saturday’s rubber).

Gasquet is not exactly a doubles guy. He did reach a ranking of No. 45. But that was nearly 10 years ago. He has two career titles: Metz with Fabrice Santoro in 2006, and Sydney with Tsonga in 2008.

He has played just two doubles matches all season, both with Lucas Pouille.

Herbert has never teamed up with Gasquet, or Tsonga, or Pouille. Which has to mean Noah is confident that it won’t come down to a pickup doubles team.

Or that he has health concerns with Tsonga or Pouille, and wants to have a third top-shelf singles player if he needs one.

Benneteau

The action begins Friday, 9 a.m. EST. Same start time for Saturday’s doubles. The Sunday reverse singles begin at 8:30 a.m. EST.

“La bise de la réconciliation” for feuding Frenchwomen

ROLAND GARROS – In the end, despite the well-documented off-court drama, it was about tennis for Frenchwomen Alizé Cornet and Caroline Garcia.

At stake on Monday was a spot in the singles quarter-finals of their home Grand Slam. And it was Garcia, the recipient of so much criticism amid the public airing of some internal French Fed Cup dirty laundry, who had the last laugh.

Garcia defeated Cornet 6-2, 6-4 to reach her first career quarterfinal. It was also the first time Garcia had ever won a match on the main stadium court, Court Philippe-Chatrier. 

That, combined with an extra-time, third-round win over Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei that very easily could have gone the other way, may have have exorcised a few Roland Garros demons for the talented 23-year-old.

Just here for the handshake

If you were just there for the handshake, it far exceeded expectations. And that’s probably in part due to the graciousness of the loser, Cornet.

The bookmakers had 300-1 odds against the two exchanging kisses. And yet, it happened.

Frenchwomen

“I don’t know, I’m not the one to ask about how we got there, I don’t know. But it’s the truth!” Garcia said, laughing. “I’ll admit, it wasn’t really thought out. I was just so happy and everything. I shook her hand and after, I think I we kissed on the cheek. But it was natural.”

“I’m sure that everyone looked at this match to see how was it going to happen.Frenchwomen Everyone was surprised, maybe it’s going to be a battle or whatever. But, I mean, I just tried to stay like a professional player. I play tennis because I enjoy it, and I don’t want to get any fight with anyone. What happen, happened. We never forget about it. Tennis is a game. I play to enjoy and that’s it,” Garcia added.

Cornet’s first reaction was that it was the coldest exchange of kisses she’d ever had. “But it was a kiss,” she laughed. “It’s a good point already, and I was actually also surprised. I was not expecting that she wanted to give me a kiss. And I liked it. I mean, it was good to finish on this note, you know, like I wouldn’t have liked like just a handshake, like very cold.

“I’m not this kind of person. I’m a very nice person. I don’t like the conflict. So I told her good luck, and I mean it,” she added.

Next-day reflections

On French television Tuesday, Cornet said she hoped all the drama was behind them.

“I said, ‘Bravo, Caro. and good luck.’ And gave her a bit of a shove in the shoulder. Let’s hope that said it all. I hope we move on, because there are worse things in life,” Cornet said. “Obviously I wish it were me (winning), but I’m sincerely happy for her. And I hope we can stop talking about it. It’s getting heavy, and people hear the about the controversy. It’s really not worth it.”

Asked about the cheek kisses, Cornet smiled and agreed. “La bise de la reconciliation!”

Frenchwomen

Solid French women’s content

It was the deepest into the French Open that two Frenchwomen had met in several decades.

And it also was the first time Cornet and Garcia had met at the WTA/Slam level. They have only played once, in 2010 at the Marseille ITF tournament (that actually is going on this week), when Garcia was 16 and Cornet, 20.

Garcia resolved before the French to keep her distance from the opinions of others – at least, as much as she could. “I say it, and I’ll repeat it, having people around you who support you, who cheer you, that’s great. But sometimes, people have bad intentions and when you’re a little fragile, it can really hurt,” she said.

Meanwhile, another Frenchwoman has her shot at making the semifinals Tuesday, as No. 13 seed Kristina Mladenovic takes on No. 30 seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.

Mladenovic’s doubles run with Svetlana Kuznetsova ended Monday with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to the No. 1 seeds, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova. She has spent more than nine hours on court in singles, plus the doubles, while Bacsinszky is significantly fresher.

So all the focus is on singles. But Mladenovic’s quest to do Garcia one better and make the semifinals is a challenging one against Bacsinszky, who was a semi-finalist here two years ago. 

Garcia will take on No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic Wednesday, in her bid to do the same.