There is a compelling uncertainty about Benoit Paire — by the time you correctly pronounce his name, with an accent on the proper syllables, he would be either a break down or up, depending on which Paire has shown up. The flippant version could be erroneous, insecure and phlegmatic. The shot-maker extraordinaire could please you with shots of unimagined dimensions.
When in sync — there are few things the Frenchman can’t do in a match shot-wise — stretched-out squash saves, recovery slashes from deep in the corners, sublime stop volleys, deft drop shots, nuclear-tipped aces, hitting over, under and through the ball. The base of it all is a supremely athletic frame, flexible wrists and nimble footwork.
He is especially tough to play for the first time, as world No 15 Marin Cilic would attest to. “He completely surprised me. He is so different in everything, so unlike a player I have seen. He is a little bit flashy and creates unusual angles with his backhands. His is a very dangerous player on his returns in that he is unpredictable. Playing against him takes some getting used to and he can disrupt your momentum with his style of play. He is especially difficult to play him (for the first time),” he observed.
His serve is huge, backhand gorgeous and he effortlessly glides around the court, enjoys coming to the net and the drop shot is his choice weapon of destruction. Against Cilic, it was complete mayhem as he aced at will, smashed backhand return winners, carved drop shots, serve and volleyed and just perfectly executed every single low percentage and inconceivable shot in the book. But as he demonstrated against Roberto Bautista Agut, mediocrity can creep into his game inadvertently, without any noticeable warning sign.
He was all smooth and flying but for some bizarre reason, committed a slew of unforced errors — some of them horrendous — to hand his opponent the initiative. His game swung between the outrageous and the ordinary ever so frequently. He beat world No 15 one evening and the next evening lost to a 74th-ranked player. However, his story is legendary among French tennis players even before he was in the top 1000. One of his most famous stories is from a day when he didn’t want to go to a tournament. His coach insisted that he went, and so Benoit took his three racquets, broke them all, and said: “Are we still going now?” This sums up his attitude best.