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Powerful serving propels Paire

By Robin Jonathan Deutsch
Monday, August 25, 2014

WHAT HAPPENED: In a grueling, four-hour match between French countrymen, Benoit Paire parlayed a booming serve with an aggressive baseline attack to upset No. 24 seed Julien Benneteau, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, on a sun-drenched Court 11 on Monday in first round action at the 2014 US Open.

Paire, 25, was the aggressor in all facets and with the victory signaled that he is healthy after battling a recurring knee injury throughout the spring. His flat, booming first serve earned him 14 aces and kept Benneteau on his heels the entire match. He pounded out 85 winners compared to just 31 for his opponent,but he committed 77 unforced errors, which also kept Benneteau in the match.

Benneteau gave away the first set. He capitalized on a Paire double fault to take a 5-3 lead, but in the ninth game, however, he failed to convert two consecutive overheads on set point, allowing Paire back into the set, which he won in a in a tiebreak 7-4.

Benneteau, 32, showed his experience and poise, bouncing back in the second set after trailing 2-0 and then 5-4 to eke out a 7-5 victory. He won the last three games with steady baseline play that forced Paire into several unforced errors. Those miscues frustrated Paire, who ended the set by slamming his racquet on the court, cracking the head in half.

With the match entering the third hour and temperatures rising into the high 80s, both players remained content to slug away from the baseline, pushing fitness and stamina to the forefront. When Paire did find an opening at net, he was effective, converting on 61 percent (36-of-59) of his advances. Paire jumped to a 3-0 third set lead, but as customary throughout the match, Benneteau used his steady play to draw even. At 4-4 in the third set, Paire pounded an ace down the middle for a 5-4 lead and then converted a nifty crosscourt backhand volley to win 6-4.

In the fourth set, Benneteau surged ahead, 4-1, as Paire’s groundstrokes became inconsistent again. The 14-year tour veteran held on 6-4, forcing a fifth set. Paire’s big serving game, which also resulted in 13 double faults, didn’t fail him on big points. An ace broke a 3-3 tie, and still blistering at 123 mph, forced Benneteau into a 5-4 deficit. Benneteau survived three match points, one somewhat controversial, when his forehead barely clipped the line and was ruled in. Paire flopped backwards on the court, pleading that the ball was wide, but it just momentarily prolonged his upset victory,which came three points later and put him into the US Open second round for the first time since 2010.

WHAT IT MEANS: Paire,who withdrew from several tournaments in the spring due to an on-and-off knee injury, looked fit, fast and agile. He will play the winner of Pablo Carreno Busta-Andreas Beck.

THE QUESTION: Paire has advanced to the US Open second round only once before, as a qualifier in 2010. Will his powerful serving and aggressive baseline game lead him further this year?