It has become a weekly occurrence that France’s Benoit Paire finds himself tangled up in some sort of controversy and the Italian Open is no different.
The former top 20 star took to the court on Monday and faced home player Stefano Travaglia who he lost to in straight sets. Besides yet another loss on the Tour, Paire received a code violation for ‘unprofessional conduct.’ After arguing with umpire Carlos Bernardes over a first serve being called out, which the TV hawk-eye later confirmed, Paire decided to take a photo of the court marking. Even after the match he invited Travaglia to come and look at the mark, which he didn’t.
There is never a dull moment when it comes to the life of the Frenchman on Tour who has opened up about his personal struggles with bubble life. However, he took a swipe at organisers in Rome for another reason.
“I got the vaccine two days ago and asked to play as late as possible because I couldn’t arrive until last night (Sunday at 10 p.m.). In the end, they put me today (Monday) at ten in the morning, I could not even hit the ball once here, I could not train the last days,” L’Equipe quoted Paire as telling reporters on Monday.
“I still have a little pain from my shot from the vaccine, it’s a bit heavy to lift my arm. I knew it. I did what I could.”
Continuing his monologue about life on the Tour, Paire openly admitted that he tries his very best when playing in front of fans. This year’s Italian Open is taking place behind closed doors until the third round. Then in agreement with local health officials the tournament is allowed to welcome up to 25% of their capacity.
“The result is not the most important, the important thing is to spend a little time on the court. As I have always said, with an empty stadium, I take it as a workout. When you know the atmosphere in Rome, seeing the stadium empty is a bit hard. It’s week after week, it doesn’t matter,” he stated.
The ironic thing about the current COVID-19 pandemic and Paire’s unhappiness with the rules in place is that when it comes to the rankings he has been one of the biggest beneficiaries. He is currently ranked 35th in the world, despite only winning two matches out of 11 tournaments played so far this season. This is due to adjustments to the rankings calculations to help support players who may encounter troubles travelling to certain tournaments during the pandemic.
“I will keep my Marrakech final because I keep half the points and I won there (in 2019. The tournament was cancelled in 2020). I had a fourth round at Roland and I will keep a third round no matter what, I will keep a third round at Wimbledon, I will keep my final in Lyon. I’m not worried,” he explained.
“Even if I go down, I will go down 50th in the world. Just when things get better and the pandemic has passed, we will have to rediscover the pleasure of being on a court.”
One of the most remarkable views of the 32-year-old is that his lack of wins on the Tour hasn’t dented his confidence. In fact, he openly states that he will return back to peak form when the Tour’s COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed and he plays in front of people every week. Suggesting that all this time he hasn’t been playing to his full ability out of choice.
However, what if this plan of Paire’s backfire? His home Grand Slam, the French Open, is less than a month away. At Roland Garros he will be hoping to rely on the support of the public who will be allowed to attend on a restricted basis. Even though he has recently been barred by the French Tennis Association (FFT) for playing at the upcoming Olympics due to his recent behaviour.
“I will train myself. I’m trying to find a trainer, to find help on the physical level. I’m not saying I’m giving up. I do not give up,” Paire assures.
“I’m just saying it’s tough at the closed-door tournaments right now. I am quite sensitive and when I see that I am making good shots and that nothing is happening on the court, there is no noise. Whether I do a double fault or a winning stroke, it’s exactly the same.’
“In Roland (Garros), there will be a few people, I will try to find a little fun even with friends of mine and try to be ready. And if I’m not ready, it will be for the next tournaments.”
It remains to be seen what the future has in store for Paire. Fortunately for him, the ATP has recently sent a document to players outlining an easing to restrictions related to COVID-19. Meaning players will have more freedom during tournaments. Could this enable him to be more consistent and less controversial on Tour? Only time will take on this one.
Denis Shapovalov Handles Opelka To Reach Australian Open Fourth Round
The Canadian managed to get past his 6ft 11 American opponent in a match that lasted over three hours.
Denis Shapovalov is into the fourth round of the Australian Open after beating 23rd seed Reilly Opelka 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and two minutes on Margeret Court Arena.
The Canadian hit 39 winners and served 10 aces while limiting Opelka to just 17 aces. In contrast the American finished the match with a costly 46 unforced errors as Shapovalov booked his spot in the second week of the tournament.
” I think I did a really good job against Reilly (Opelka) today and I took a lot of my chances and managed to get a read on his serve,” said the world No.14.
Both players were doing a good job early on when it came to holding serve and at 3-3 it was the Toronto native who had three chances to break. On his third opportunity broke serve with his trademark backhand winner.
However, that break didn’t last long for Shapovalov as he struggled to consolidate the break and ultimately gave the break right back with a poor service game and it was back on serve at 4-4.
The first was decided by a tiebreaker and Shapovalov got the crucial break to take a 3-1 lead in the breaker which was enough for him to take the first set.
The second frame was much like the first with both players holding serve until 3-3 when Opelka broke serve. He was able to consolidate and serve out the set to level the match.
The third set stayed on serve until 3-2 and the momentum swung back in the Canadians favor. He got the break of serve this time using his forehand to great effect and served out the third to take a two sets to one lead.
Just like the third set the fourth set had no breaks until 3-2 when again the number 14 seed broke Opelka serve again and that break of serve was enough for him to serve out the match and the win.
After the match in his post-match interview, he was asked how he was able to limit his opponent to just 17 aces in the match.
” It’s never easy against Reilly (Opelka) but I am happy I was able to pull through and make it to the next round”. He said.
Shapovalov will face the number three seed Alexander Zverev in the round of 16.
Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon
For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.
Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.
The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.
It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.
The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.
The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.
The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.
For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.
Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.
‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open
Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.
World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.
Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.
“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.
A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.
O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.
“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”
Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.
“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”
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