Paire-Félix: a new bromance

LYON, France – Benoit Paire might have felt a little badly beating Félix Auger-Aliassime in the Lyon final Saturday.

Not enough to give him a shot at the title, as the 30-year-old Frenchman had an impeccable tournament.

And if he’s a little tired physically, he now has great momentum going into his home-country Grand Slam.

But when it was over, the Frenchman had almost no reaction.

And he quickly rushed to the net to console Auger-Aliassime, who had clearly been dealing with an injury in the second set.

Only after all that, after the handshakes, did Paire allow himself to leap with joy.

It was really kind of nice. There isn’t anyone around the game that we’ve spoken to about the 18-year-old Canadian – media, other players, tournament staff – who have anything but heaps of praise for the kid.

A shutout in his speech

Beyond all the concern at the net, Paire went out of his way to heap lavish praise on Auger-Aliassime as a human being during the trophy ceremony.

It was enough to make a guy blush. But Auger-Aliassime handled it with the equanimity that has been a major feature of his quick maturing process at the pro level.

Félix looks for maiden title in Lyon

LYON, France – One more win, and Félix Auger-Aliassime will ride into Roland Garros with his first ATP Tour title safely secured.

After a tough, physically demanding comeback win over No. 1 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in the Lyon semifinal Friday, he’ll face home-country favorite Benoit Paire in Saturday’s final.

Auger-Aliassime was just a few points away from defeat in the second set, before winning 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 in two hours and 16 minutes on a very warm day.

There wasn’t a lot the 18-year-old Canadian could do at the start of the match, as Basilashvili was on a major roll on service return. As hard as Auger-Aliassime was serving, the return was coming back almost as quickly. 

Basilashvili was significantly more engaged in this match than he was in their first meeting, just a couple of months ago in Miami. That one went Auger-Aliassime’s way in two close sets, but it didn’t feel that close.

Here’s what it looked like on Friday.

Tough, physical rallies

On Friday in Lyon, the Georgian was crushing the ball. And the effort it took from Auger-Aliassime to win even a few of the baseline rallies was considerable. He wasn’t being allowed to play his game.

But he stayed the course. Ultimately, he pulled out the tiebreak, and had Basilashvili muttering to himself, in several languages.

But even if Basilashvili can sometimes be less than committed when the going gets tough, that was not the case in this match. He fought until the very last point. And it was Auger-Aliassime who felt the effects physically.

He took a medical timeout as his left adductor started pulling. But he needed to be able to stretch it to the fullest to defend on a number of points late in the match. And it held up.

Lyon

Felix passes Shapovalov in the rankings

With the victory, Auger-Aliassime will pass his friend Denis Shapovalov in the ATP Tour rankings on Monday.

As they say, it’s on – in a rivalry that will make both better players, and which it appears they will handle with great brotherhood.

Here’s what Auger-Aliassime had to say after the match (in French, with Tennis.Life providing the subtitles) on the match, on Benoit Paire, on the adductor issue and on the intra-Canadian rivalry with Shapovalov.

And here are a few reactions in English on some of the more basic stuff.

We’ll have lots more from Lyon after the Canadian’s second final of the season, after the 500 in Rio back in February.

Rare pre-RG run for Paire

LYON – Benoit Paire said that he’d tried “eight or nine” times to play the week before the French Open, but had never managed to win a match.

The Frenchman, who turned 30 two weeks ago, was exaggerating only a little. This looks like his sixth try, between the tournament in Nice and this new one in Lyon, which is in its third incarnation.

But he’s having a run. The unseeded Pair was a few points from elimination in the first round against American Mackenzie McDonald.

He beat Pablo Cuevas with surprisingly little difficulty,  And then, against Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals Thursday, he was down 0-3 in the third-set tiebreak before pulling off another solid win, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4).

The win over Shapovalov (at No. 23) is the best win, by ranking, for Paire since he defeated Diego Schwartzman a year ago in Rome.

Here’s what it looked like.

Paire vs. Fritz – two in-form players

In Saturday’s semis, Paire will meet young American Taylor Fritz, who has been on the clay-court circuit since the very first week and can move into the top 40, and to a career high, if he can defeat Paire.

Paire said he’d have to pull out the drop shot, and make Fritz do what he “doesn’t like to do” – move.

The two have played twice. Fritz won on hard court at Indian Wells – almost Fritz’s home turf. Paire beat him on grass last year in Stuttgart.

For Fritz, the decision to play a full-out clay-court season wasn’t a tough one. He told Tennis.Life that he’s a player who likes to play. And he couldn’t imagine just taking a two-month break in the heart of the season.

Lyon is his 14th event of 2019. He qualified in both Rome and Madrid and has posted some impressive wins. More crucially, given he might have a dozen more European clay-court seasons ahead of him, he’s setting down some building blocks to make the most of this part of the season going forward.

Paire

ATP Rankings Report – April 15, 2019

As with the women, the top men mostly took the week off this week (with the notable exception of Alexander Zverev in Marrakech) as they rev it up this week at the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo.

Well, most of them, anyway.

In the meantime, there was another first-time winner as 22-year-old Cristian Garin of Chile hosted an ATP-level trophy for the first time in Houston.

Garin defeated Pablo Cuevas, Jérémy Chardy and Sam Querrey on his way to the title, which he won over young Norwegian Casper Ruud.

The Chilean reached the final at the tournament in Sao Paulo, Brazil over the winter, losing to Guido Pella in the final.

In Marrakech, Benoit Paire and Pablo Andujar battled in a final for the second time in three weeks. At a Challenger in Marbella, Spain at the end of March, Andujar defeated Paire 6-4 in the third set.

After losing in the first round in four of his previous five ATP Tour level events, it was a nice turnaround for Paire.

Both Garin and Paire jump into the top 50 (for Paire, more familiar territory) with their titles.

There are no changes in the top 20.

Marrakech
Ruud, 20, is 9-4 on the season at the ATP Tour level, and has risen from No. 126 after the Australian Open. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

ON THE UPSWING

Benoit Paire (FRA): No. 69 ————> No. 43

Cristian Garin (CHI): No. 73 ————> No. 47 (The 22-year-old Chilean won his first career ATP Tour title on the red clay in Houston, and leaps into the top 50. After the Australian Open, he stood at No. 95).

Sam Querrey (USA): No. 71 ————> No. 66

Casper Ruud (NOR): No. 95 ————> No. 68 (A career high for the 20-year-old from Norway, whose father Christian was a fine player).

Bernard Tomic (AUS): No. 79 ————> No. 73

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA): No. 116 ————> No. 102 (It appears Tsonga can play Paris on own comeback ranking, or the French federation can save the wild card for someone else. Either way, it has to feel good).

Dennis Novak (AUT): No. 156 ————> No. 122 (The 25-year-old is at a career high after beating Sergiy Stakhovsky to win the Taiwan Challenger).

ON THE DOWNSWING

Richard Gasquet (FRA): No. 26 ————> No. 30

Joao Sousa (POR): No. 43 ————> No. 51

Steve Johnson (USA): No. 39 ————> No. 59 (The American, No. 1 seed in Houston, lost his first match to qualifier Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia. Johnson had beaten five Americans (four of them in three sets) to win the title a year ago).

Taylor Fritz (USA): No. 58 ————> No. 65

Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG): No. 66 ————> No. 79 (Londero is going to start to encounter that purgatory for players who have gotten their rankings high enough to get off the Challenger tour. The Argentine went from the qualifying to the title at a $100,000 event in Mexico City a year ago, earning 105 points. His second-round defeat in Marrakech earned him only 20).

Pablo Andujar (ESP): No. 70 ————> No. 86 (Andujar reached the Marrakech final – but he won it last year).

Ivo Karlovic (CRO): No. 77 ————> No. 97 (The big Croat was a semifinalist in Houston a year ago, but lost to Ryan Harrison in the first round this year).

Tomas Berdych (CZE): No. 97 ————> No. 98 (Berdych, who entered Monte Carlo with a protected ranking of No. 57, withdrew from the event in the week before the draw).

Tennys Sandgren (USA): No. 81 ————> No. 111 (The American was a Houston finalist a year ago. But he was beaten in the first round by Janko Tipsarevic this year. A direct entry into Monte Carlo last year, he’ll be the No. 2 seed at the Sarasota Open instead).

Marco Trungelliti (ARG): No. 127 ————> No. 139 (Worse, he withdrew from the Monte Carlo qualifying before his final-round match).

Jack Sock (USA): No. 137 ————> No. 149 (Still no word on when Sock will return. From the video he posted a month ago, he was impressively hitting – with his left hand. And very clearly protecting his right. So it’s hard to tell. In the meantime, he seems to have a new girlfriend – 22-year-old Laura Little, a model and cheerleader for the NBA’s Charlotte franchise. He lost his beloved grandmother and made a bucket-list trip to the Masters with his family. So otherwise, life seems pretty good).

THE ROAD TO ROLAND

Depending on how many protected rankings are used, it’s unclear how much the main-draw cutoff will deviate from the “standard” No. 104.

And we still don’t know if Juan Martin del Potro is anywhere close to returning in time for Paris.

But a few players helped their causes last week, while Tennys Sandgren put himself out of contention to get straight into Paris.

Marrakech

(Screenshots from TennisTV. For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture, click here).

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)

Paire disses opponent Haas, self in loss

A Benoit Paire match can be must-see tennis – if you enjoy the unexpected and aren’t offended by a supremely talented player disrespecting the game or his opponent.

But in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters against 39-year-old Tommy Haas Tuesday, Paire went far – even by his standards.

After going down 6-2, 6-3 in short order, he wasn’t very kind to the former world No. 2 in his post-match comments in French.

“But today – even if he came back at age 70, with no training, he still would have won. I wasn’t feeling the ball,” Paire said.

On court, Paire was significantly more disrespectful.

After going down 0-2 in the second set, he sat down and had a medical timeout that consisted of:

–Having some sort of elixir poured into his mouth by the tournament physician
–Receiving some short of chewable medication
–Having his left ankle briefly examined and sprayed. “It just happened now,” Paire told the trainer.

Paire takes an MTO for … not much down 2-6, 0-2 to Tommy Haas Tuesday in Monte Carlo (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Meanwhile, his “elderly” opponent was getting wolf whistles as he changed his shirt and had the crowd chanting “Tommy! Tommy!” while they waited for play to resume.

Having lost the next game, Paire spent much of the next changeover going off on … himself, as he stood on the court right below his support group.

“Always the same … Not a single ball coming off the racquet properly … This is really s**t … The guy is totally useless and he’s leading 6-2, 3-0 … The guy is useless, completely useless. He’s playing 2 (miles) an hour. He’s useless. Honestly, I’m extra-awful. … I just have to play TWO seconds and I think I win 6-2, 6-2 … Useless, completely useless. …”

During most of the rant, his people just looked away. It’s probably not the first time they’ve heard it.

Here it is, in all its original gloire française.

Paire lost the next game to fall behind 4-0.

Suddenly, though, he came to life, winning three games on the trot as he exhorted himself on the way back to his chair on the next changeover, and throughout the 90-second break.

“PLAY! … Just rubbish since the start. PLAY TENNIS!  PLAY! … Just rubbish since the start. Rubbish! … PLAY TENNIS! … Put the ball in the court! Put the ball in the court! IN THE COURT, THE BALL, IN THE COURT!.

“Haven’t put a single ball in. Haven’t put a single ball in. Haven’t put a SINGLE BALL IN! … Play. Play. PLAY! … I’m not putting one ball in. I’m not moving. MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! Play tennis. Play tennis. PLAY TENNIS!  PLAY!”

(That’s a direct translation from Paire’s native French. He really did say all this).

Perhaps that wasn’t the kind of pep talk he needed. After a brilliant drop shot – backhand lob combination to start the game, Haas held for 5-3 without having to do more than hit it “2… an hour” (as Paire put it earlier). The German then broke serve to win his first match in Monte Carlo since … 2004.

Much of the crowd on the Court des Princes stood up to give Haas an ovation. To their credit – and quite possibly because Paire is a homeboy, they didn’t boo him off the court.

On Twitter, Haas’s wife Sara Foster was, well, less than impressed.

The “best” Paire meltdowns

So many to choose from …

Just last week in Morocco against Philipp Kohlschreiber, Paire took issue with the chair umpire’s overrule and proceeded to fire a ball angrily into the crowd not once, but twice in a row.

There are racquet destructions galore (the one Tuesday in the Haas match was average, by his standards):

Here’s Paire at a Challenger in Orléans in 2013 (at least he manages to amuse himself when the power goes out):

Paire traumatizes a chair at Wimbledon (although, to his credit, it was a masterfully athletic move):

Still, he has a soft, tender side. Watch here as Paire likely prevents fellow hothead Fabio Fognini from completely losing it late in the fifth set of their Australian Open encounter this year, after Paire gets lucky with a let cord. Kindred spirit to kindred spirit.