It was the premier match of the day at the Open 13 Provence and the encounter between Benoit Paire and Stan Wawrinka more than lived up to its expectations. After several straight set losses at the hands of the Swiss, the Frenchman was able to flip the script on his best friend and leave the court as the winner — and the only Frenchman left in the competition.
Benoit Paire was all smiles and jokes after his hard-fought win over top seed Stan Wawrinka, but it was only a day before that the 26-year-old from Avignon admitted that playing his best friend makes usually makes him feel bad on court.
When asked how bad he felt on court during today’s quarterfinal, the Frenchman broke into a wide smile.
“Very bad, yes, I felt very bad. Very bad match,” Paire laughed. “Yeah, I was feeling very good on court today. (As I said) yesterday, it’s never easy to play against Stan — he’s my best friend so I think today I just wanted to play my game and try my best to win the match. That’s the big difference between this match and the match in Chennai.”
Paire got off to a strong start in the first set, getting the break early, and didn’t surrender his lead all the way until he wrapped up the opener — even though he was tested massively in the final game and had to fend off break chances. Just like in his previous match against Vincent Millot, Paire suffered a blowout securing a one set lead and the Frenchman lost his serve in two close games at the beginning and the end of the the second set.
“I hoped to play better but in general I think it was a good level tonight compared to the first match,” Wawrinka said. “I think we were both playing well. I had a few occasions to take the match especially in the third set, first game and at 5-5.”
At the beginning, the third set looked to go Wawrinka’s way again since the No. 8 seed found himself in yet another tricky spot and had to save three break points in the opening game. Paire broke straight afterwards but unlike in the opener, the World No. 21 couldn’t quite carry the advantage over the finish line.
It wasn’t until 5-6 when Wawrinka dug himself a hole he was unable to get out of and went down three match points on his own serve. The Swiss was able to save the first two but third time was a charm for Paire as he sealed the deal with a fantastic backhand lob to the deafeaning cheers of the crowd.
“Well, it’s tough, the crowd is definitely on his side…I’m happy for (Benoit) but I’m certainly not happy that I lost. It’s matches like these that drive me mad. Last year I lost [in the quarterfinals] being seeded No. 2, this time I’m losing [in the quarterfinals] being seeded No. 1. This doesn’t make me happy or the tournament. It’s annoying.”
Nevertheless, despite his anger about falling at the Open 13 Provence earlier than expected for the second year running, the Swiss was complimentary of his best friend’s performance.
“I’m not his coach, I’m his friend — and I’ll tell him straight to his face, so he knows what I think of his career or what he’s doing,” he said. “Everyone can see he’s got great potential and he can do even better but he’s also got to work hard and I hope he will. When it comes to tonight’s match, I missed a couple of key points but overall he deserved the win; he really converted the energy of the crowd to get this victory.”
Paire came to Marseille on a four-match losing streak and now he is bound to head back into the Top 20 after making the semifinals at his home tournament. As the Frenchman himself admitted, to say that only three matches are turning his season around might be a little too strong but he’s definitely feeling back on track again — particularly after the “horrendous match” he played at the Australian Open.
“Yes, I’m feeling good physically. Today I was good on court, I was moving well…The most important to me is to feel good on my forehand because my backhand is here every time.
“So I know, when my forehand is here, I can win against all the players. So tomorrow we will see what happens but right now I’m feeling very good about all my shots,” followed by a beaming smile.
Paire will need to be at the very least “very good” tomorrow when he faces another stern test in No. 3 seed Marin Cilic. The Croat made short work of Andre Kuznetsov earlier on Friday and the 27-year-old has been playing solid tennis in both his matches so far. Paire, who was already the last Frenchman standing before taking the court against Wawrinka, would be advised to be alert and not stumble into another lapse like he did in his most recent two matches.