By John Delong
Earlier this year Benoit Paire won the title at Lyon the week before Roland Garros, and then he went on a long run in Paris.
Paire is hoping for a similar result this week at the Winston-Salem Open, as he tries to gain momentum going into next week’s US Open.
The 30-year-old Frenchman got off to a good start on Tuesday afternoon with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the second round. It moved him into third-round action on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s match between Bjorn Fratangelo and Ugo Humbert.
Paire is the tournament’s No. 1 seed, entering the tournament ranked No. 30 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings.
“I am really happy to be here, really happy to be No. 1 for sure,” Paire said. “I’m really happy to be playing matches before the US Open. The week before Roland Garros I won the tournament in Lyon and then I played very good at Roland Garros, made a run to the final 16. So it’s good for me to gain some confidence here and I’m trying to do my best.”
Paire has been ranked as high as No. 18 in early 2016. But this might be the best stretch of his career. He not only won Lyon earlier this year but Marrakech as well. And his focus for sure seems to be better than at any point in his career. If there’s been a knock on Paire, it’s that he was always too inconsistent.
“I feel much better on the court,” Paire said. “Honestly I’m more focused on my tennis than I have been at times in my career, more focused on what I have to do. I’m 30 years old now, so I have to play a lot on my backhand and a lot with my serve. I’m thinking about it more than my forehand. And for me, it’s important to win now. When I win I feel much more comfortable. I started the year with a Challenger and won some matches and got comfortable, and then I won two ATP. So for me the confidence has grown.”
He said he played all right in his win over Gunneswaran, especially since Gunneswaran had won their only previous encounter.
“It’s never easy the first match,” he said. “But I won the match, which was a concern for me. I didn’t get to practice yesterday because of the rain so I’m happy with myself. Even if I didn’t playu good the whole match, I played good at the important moments. He’s a good player, he has beat me before, so I know he can beat me. So to win in two sets is good.”
He said he feels a little pressure as the No. 1 seed, but he welcomes it.
“I feel it a little bit because when you see the draw you see No. 1 and then you see players like Murray and Berdych and Shapovalov and you are No. 1, and they want to beat you,” Paire said. “But it’s like any other tournament. We have to play match by match, and every match is tough. That’s what I’m doing, taking it match after match. We’ll see how It goes.”
In other afternoon matches, Steve Johnson beat Corentin Moutet 6-3, 6-3; John Millman beat Maraco Cecchinato 6-7, 6-4, 6-3; Andrey Rublev beat Thomas Fabbiano 6-4, 6-2; Robin Haase beat Joao Sousa 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; and Damir Dzumhur beat Antoine Hoang 6-7, 6-0, 6-2.