Benoit Paire loses, but wins just by playing
A year ago, French tennis player Benoît Paire spent the US Open in isolation in his Long Island hotel room after testing positive for Covid-19, unable to take his place in the draw and unable to find its happy place in the wake.
Pair, no mainstay of consistency in normal times, struggled in new ways in extraordinary times, missing fans and blow after blow, sometimes putting in very little effort as the first round losses piled up.
“I was there without really being there,” he says.
But the crowds are back, as the first day of the US Open made clear on Monday, once ticket holders made it through the unbearably long safety lines and into the tournament.
Pair left their Manhattan hotel room in the morning and headed to Court 13, one of the outdoor courts that still looks like an outdoor court even after all the construction of the new Flushing Meadows stadium.
Fans are close to the action here, and the action on the adjacent field is close as well. The supporters gathered at Court 13 were quick to show their loyalty by chanting “Benedict” much more often than they chanted the name of his worthy Serbian opponent Dusan Lajovic.
“I was happy to see the crowd again, to share a moment with the people,” said Paire. “It’s true that when people applaud for a good point or a well saved breaking point, it feels good. And it pushes you, or at least it pushes me. That’s why I play tennis. So I’m enjoying it more and more, and that’s why I’m coming back to my good level.
Paire’s tennis clothing, freshly delivered by its new sponsor, is branded “be normal”, but that doesn’t seem like the message Paire really wants to get across.
He is unlike other tennis players with his long hipster beard worthy of a 19th century French painter: think Édouard Manet. It also has a creative side all its own: conjuring up half-end winners from places on the pitch where most players on the tour wouldn’t consider trying to hit a half-end winner. Its two-handed backhand is soft, versatile, and often deadly. His forehand, with his weird and narrow backswing, is unique and not always in a good way.
But like Nick Kyrgios, another outrageously gifted tennis player who rejected the tour without his fans, 49th-ranked Paire struggles to take his eyes off racket in hand.
He left 40th-ranked Lajovic shaking his head and laughing after some of his best shots, but although Paire clearly cared, which was progress, he couldn’t back up his genius shots with a game. sufficiently strong under stress.
There were double faults at inopportune times, unforced errors that seemed nonchalant but also due to fatigue in the heat and humidity.
Although Lajovic’s shirt was soaked in sweat at first, Pair was the one who looked the most tired, leaning forward and putting a hand on each knee as he slowly settled down to return serves.
But he still found the energy to let off steam at the end of the second set, losing his temper after stopping play due to a shout from the crowd and a lost point.
The rules of tennis are clear on this subject: the point is there. But Paire took umbrage and eventually pulled him out onto the umbrella above Lajovic’s chair, hitting him hard enough with his racquet to smash the umbrella and scare the chair umpire and fans sitting in the front rows.
Pair received his second match code violation – this one for unsportsmanlike conduct – and was docked at one point. He then lost the set and the match 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.
It was a pessimistic result after his happy race to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open in suburban Cincinnati earlier this month. But Paire looked like an unusually happy man for a first-round loser.
Another French player is missing the US Open this year because of quarantine: Gilles Simon, who is not vaccinated and confined to his hotel room in New York after his coach tested positive for Covid. Simon was considered “close contact”.
But Paire is free to walk away, free to roam the pitch which was packed on Monday as he left Court 13, not so unlucky, and returned to the locker room with two security guards interfering.
Not that Paire wants to stay in his bubble. Fans continued to run towards him, cellphones in hand, to pose for selfies, and although many first-round losers reportedly kept their chin down and picked up the pace to take refuge, Pair slowed down and pulled away. suitable for everyone.