Those who have seen him ply his trade on the professional tennis tour know that Benoit Paire is quite a character on and off the court. Those who had not had a chance to see the Frenchman at play before but are recent additions as an audience would not take long to figure out that he is not the all-business kind of player, but someone who works to the tune of his own vibe.
In the past year, by his own admission, Paire has not only tried his best to temper himself but also let his performances speak about it instead of trying to explain himself. Not only to tennis fans all over but also to French fans, with whom he affirms he has had a love-hate relationship.
“I think the French tennis [fans] love me. Or they hate me. There is no middle [ground]. I play for my country,” he said in an exclusive conversation with Tennis World USA, in Pune. He also shared how the ignominy of being thrown out of the French contingent at the 2016 Rio Olympics was a factor for him to seek self-improvement.
“The bad thing was during the Olympics [in 2016] when I was fired from the Olympic Games. And it was not good for me and France. But since that day, they see me I like to play for the French team. I like to play for France.
I won a title last year in France. Roland Garros was a good tournament for me. So, I think now the French people like me and for sure, they were sad I was not in Montpellier… I am sure in France when I will come back for Marseilles, they will be happy to see me”.
Since Paire’s confirmed for the Open 13 in Marseilles, he will have a chance to experience this happiness in person. But what about self-happiness in the midst of such outpouring of fans’ receptiveness? To the world no.
19, even that has had been work-in-progress and only recently has he has started appreciating his time spent on-court. Explaining, Paire reflected, “I think I have changed a lot. Now I enjoy to be on-court. Before it was tough.
Mentally, I could be very angry and unhappy on-court. Now it [has] changed”. Adding that age, too, played its part in bringing out this maturity, the 30-year-old mentioned, “I know am 30 years old and I know I have to enjoy.
I don’t have 10 years in front of me. I have to play match-after-match…to fight until the end and I think that’s why I won two titles last year because I was fighting. I fight until the end and we see what [will] happen”.
Paire also attributed this mental maturity to his growth as a player – in the four years between 2016, when he reached his career-high at no. 18 and now when he is on the verge of equalling (or bettering) it after reaching the 19th place in the ATP ranking this week.
“That’s what has changed between now and between 2016. Ok, I was playing maybe better [than now] but mentally I was not good,” he said. His willingness to introspect seemingly has also made Paire more receptive to acceptance.
Like, accepting that while he has a realistic chance of becoming the French no.1 overtaking the incumbent, Gael Monfils, he will still need to keeping playing, irrespective of whether that eventuality materialises or not.
Joking that he and Monfils – whom he called his friend – had a conversation about this, Paire also said he would be happy regardless of whether Monfils remained France’s no. 1 player or whether he overtook him.
“We talked about it a lot, with Gael. He told me, ‘Yeah, you know, I have got some points to defend. If you play well, you’ll be no. 1.’ So, I said, ‘Ok, but it doesn’t matter if you are still no.
1 and no.2 in the world, I will be no.3. I will still be happy”. We don’t think about this. We just play match-after-match, see what happens and if I can be no. 1, of course, I will be happy.’ But on a scale of positive to the superlative, Paire is trying to accomplish what is “most important”.
And that is wanting to improve on his ATP ranking first. “For me, the most important [thing] is to have my highest ranking. I was no. 18, I want to be no. 17 and why not 16, 15? For me, the most important [thing] is my world ranking”.