Welcome to the first installment of LiveAnalysis for the 2013 French Open! Today’s match features two members of the Class of 1989: Kei Nishikori and Benoit Paire. Japan’s No. 1 and France’s No. 4 will be meeting for just the second time in their careers.
Both men have played the exact same number of sets on their way to this third round match: 7. Nishikori dropped a set to Zemlja in the second round, while Paire did the same against Baghdatis in the first round. Interestingly enough, neither man had ever made it this far at Roland Garros before: Kei had been bounced in the second round two years in a row, whereas Ben won his first match at Roland Garros just last year…and lost shortly afterwards to David Ferrer.
As I mentioned above, this will be the just the second meeting between these two men. Their head-to-head only includes that solitary Paris match from last year, which Kei Nishikori won:
Here is a little trivia about this very short joint history:
- Even though both guys were born in 1989 (Paire is seven months older), Nishikori has a clear edge in ATP experience: he’s played almost twice as many matches in the big leagues as Paire (200 to 107). I find that remarkable, and it tells you all you need to know about Ben Paire’s remarkable turnaround this year from Stereotypical French Oddball into Very Talented Top 30 player.
- While Nishikori has 3 titles to his name already (along with 2 runner-up finishes), Paire is still looking for that first ATP title after making two finals within the past year.
- Nishikori seems to have put his return of serve prowess to good use back in Paris: Paire struggled to get 1st serves in (39%), won just 61% of 1st serve points, and 43% of 2nd serve points. Kei created 10 break chances throughout their 95 minute encounter, which was twice as many as Ben could muster.
Three Things to Watch For:
1. Who will be able to use their forehand more effectively? Part of the allure of this match-up comes from both guys’ backhands: they’re among the tour’s best. But both Paire and Nishikori’s fortunes tend to be decided by how well their forehand fares during any given match. Kei has made wonderful progress on that wing: he seems to be more in control of that shot, and he’s getting wonderful depth more consistently these days. Paire’s forehand is still a work in progress, but given the Frenchman’s talent level, it’s not that difficult to envision that shot becoming much stronger. Regardless, both men will be using their backhands to set up their forehands: whoever can finish more of those opportunities sucessfully will surely get a valuable edge.
2. Will Paire be able to feed off the Suzanne Lenglen crowd? This will most likely depend on whether the French crowd, which is notoriously fickle, accepts Paire’s eccentricities and occasional blunders. Yet it’s not difficult to foresee Paire riding a wave of passionate support from his compatriots. That could be a significant advantage in his favor.
3. Will Nishikori’s ongoing abdominal injury hamper his game in a significant way? Slight abdominal injuries are quite annoying, since they aren’t serious enough to warrant pulling out of a tournament, yet they can worsen without a moment’s notice. If Kei starts struggling with his serve, and especially if his 1st serve speed drops…we’ll know the abdominal injury is trying to derail a promising French Open appearance.
Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
As in previous LiveAnalysis posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error
The men are on court, so we should be starting soon:
First Set – Kei Nishikori will serve first.
0-0: Nishikori opens with a confident hold to 15. There were some nice forehands on display…and both men are cracking the ball right from the get-go. This could be a good one.
1-0, Nishikori: At 15-all, Nishikori absolutely murders a weak Paire 2nd serve with a blistering FH DTL return winner. This is a trend worth monitoring. After a gorgeous CC BH winner sets up GP for Paire, he barely misses a BH DTL that would’ve given him the game. Deuce #1. He’ll get another chance to hold after a fantastic inside-out FH draws the error from Kei. And a service winner seals it for the Frenchman.
1-1: Nishikori races to a 40-0 lead, but then makes a crucial mistake: he hits a CC BH straight at Paire, who was stretched well wide on his BH corner. Paire showcases his gorgeous two-hander by blasting a BH DTL winner. No problem for Nishikori, as he holds to 15 after a SW.
Tough to call this Kei / Benoit match – both very flashy and can get into unplayable modes but both also can be brittle and erratic
— Chris P (@scoobschris) June 1, 2013
2-1, Nishikori: Paire DFs at 15-30, and Nishikori will have his first BPs of the match. The 1st is saved by a thundering CC BH by Paire which forces Nishikori’s error. That was a simply awesome shot. And I can’t tell you what happened on the second BP, because my Tennis Channel stream froze just as the point was being decided. Regardless, Kei Nishikori gets the early break.
Speaking of said Tennis Channel stream: Doug Adler is stationed on Lenglen for this tournament, which means I’ll be listening to A$AP Rocky’s LONG.LIVE.A$AP album throughout.
3-1, Nishikori: Kei DFs at 30-all to give Ben his first BP of the match…and then DFs again to hand Paire the break.
Not the greatest stretch of the match, and Nishikori will be kicking himself after handing over a break advantage so meekly, right when he was on his way to taking the Lenglen crowd out of the match.
3-2, Nishikori: A SW gives Paire a chance to hold to 15, but then his natural wackiness costs him the GP: as he was racing to blast a short ball, he decided to hit a BH swinging volley instead of letting the ball drop and hitting into the open court. The swinging volley went straight at Nishikori, who passed him with a nifty BH DTL. Regardless, Paire holds moments later.
3-3: A BH UFE by Paire gives Nishikori 2 GPs at 40-15, and a SW seals the hold.
4-3, Nishikori: My Tennis Channel stream died…and I could only resuscitate it when Paire was making an UFE on BP at 30-40. Doug Adler described that game as “awful” from Paire’s perspective. I’ll take his word for it. Nishikori will serve for the first set!
5-3, Nishikori: At 15-all, Paire murders a Nishikori 2nd serve with an I-I BH DTL return winner. 15-30. Ben then plays a wonderful point, but misses a FH DTL when he seemed well in control. 30-all. SW, 40-30 and SP #1. Paire goes for a big BH DTL return…but nets it.
First Set to Kei Nishikori, 6-3.
Here are your 1st set stats:
Second Set – Benoit Paire will serve first.
0-0: Paire comes up with a horrific FH volley miss at 15-all. Seriously, that was an amateur-level mistake. Nishikori then brutalizes a very soft 2nd serve with a FH DTL return winner, and it’s 15-40. BP #1 is saved by a very good CC BH approach off a short return. A SW up the T saves BP #2. Deuce #1. AD-Paire after another good CC BH, and after a most fun point that included a grueling CC BH duel, Nishikori chases a dropper and finishes off the point with an easy volley. Deuce #2. Paire uses the dropper again, Nishikori tracks it down, but this time Paire has enough time to drill a CC BH pass to set up a GP again. Moments later, an Ace up the T seals the hold.
Things were sure spiraling out of control for Ben Paire in that game. He’s still struggling mightily to get 1st serves in – as you saw above, he only managed 35% of those deliveries in the first set. Nishikori is a great returner, and he’s feasting on Ben’s 2nd serve.
1-0, Paire: The first point of the game ends with an absolutely gorgeous FH lob winner by Paire. A beauty of a shot. At 15-all, Nishikori nets a FH unprompted, and then DFs. 15-40, and 2 BPs for Paire. The first BP is saved after the pair trade blows and Paire nets a CC FH. He’s not winning many of those exchanges. Paire then tries to assassinate a soft 2nd serve on BP #2, but he nets an I-I FH. Another fun point ends with Nishikori just missing a CC BH from way behind the baseline. The guys are cracking the ball again. BP #3 for Paire. And after another blistering exchange, Paire forces Nishikori’s FH shank and gets the early break.
This is so going five sets.
2-0, Paire: A killer BH DTL catches the tape, forces Nishikori’s error, and gives Ben Paire a GP. Which is snuffed out by a BH DTL return winner off a second serve. Deuce #1. Paire then unveils the dropper, and sets up GP with a fantastic FH DTL pass. A CC FH exchange ends with a predictable Paire FH into the net, and it’s Deuce #2. Moments later, Nishikori’s return clips the net, Paire panics and tries a dropper, and it doesn’t work this time. Nishikori gets the break back.
This is not a good sign for Ben Paire:
This being a clay match, and all.
2-1, Paire: Nishikori consolidates the break in no time.
2-2: At 30-0, Paire hits the most nonchalant I-O BH winner I’ve seen since David Nalbandián used to own that shot. Moments later, he holds at love.
Ben Paire is so very raw. A serious coach can do wonders with all the talent that’s simmering underneath the surface. The upside is overwhelming, really.
3-2, Paire: France’s No. 4 races to a 0-40 lead after a great dropper and some good BHs. The first BP is saved when once again, he tries to demolish a Nishikori 2nd serve with his FH. It ended up in the net. A much better FH return allows Paire to come to net, and just when it seemed like his volley gave Nishikori a chance to survive the BP…Kei sends his BH counter-dropper wide. Ben Paire is up a break again!
4-2, Paire: It feels like Paire is using droppers in almost every point. And the thing is…they’re working. Most of the time, that is: an errant one wastes the first GP at 40-15, and a DF brings us to Deuce #1. A SW gives Paire another GP, but he misses a BH DTL putaway by miles. Deuce #2. Rinse and repeat, and Kei Nishikori has a chance to get the break back. Paire goes for a huge 2nd serve…and misses. Kei Nishikori breaks!
I’m just laughing. That game was such a Ben Paire Extravaganza. A completely self-inflicted break of serve.
4-3, Paire: Ben destroys a racquet after a bad BH UFE. 30-all. The previous point saw Paire produce one of the worst groundstroke UFEs I’ve ever seen. He drove a simple FH into the ground…it almost failed to REACH the net. Anyways, Nishikori held at 30, after being down 0-30. All 4 points won by Kei were self-inflicted Paire disasters.
4-4: Nishikori is executing a simple gameplan, given Paire’s volatility: make the Frenchman hit everything on the run. Kei is playing with a lot of margin, letting Paire dig himself into a deeper and deeper hole. A FH UFE from Paire brings us to Deuce #1. However, a silly Nishikori BH UFE gives Paire a much needed GP. He seems to be on the edge of despair. Paire produces yet another awful FH UFE, but a SW gives him GP again. He finally holds after another SW.
You could sense that Paire is standing on the edge of a cliff. That hold was vital for his psyche. However, Nishikori will rue that silly BH UFE at deuce.
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 1, 2013
Ben Paire at No. 2 in 2018. I would love to have some of what the good folks at L’Equipe are smoking. Because it has to be amazing.
5-4, Paire: At 15-all, Paire produces a CC FH pass of staggering beauty. 15-30. Moments later, Nishikori sends a CC BH wide…it barely missed the tape. However, the mistake means Ben Paire has a SP. Nishikori plays the BP/SP masterfully: he creates space on the Deuce court by going to Paire’s BH corner three times, then drives a hard I-I FH to draw Paire’s error. However, that good work is sullied by a DF. SP #2…and then this happens:
Point penalty Paire (broken racquet – coaching) on set point!
— Steph Trudel (@TrudelSteph) June 1, 2013
Paire is shouting at the umpire and has now demanded the referee.
— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) June 1, 2013
I predict Paire will now hit two backhand return winners to win the set
— Svenja Mastroberardi (@svenja_mastro) June 1, 2013
Doug Adler is all into this point penalty. Claims Paire’s coach has been giving all sorts of signals throughout the match. Since it’s Doug Adler who’s talking, I disagree on principle.
Anyways, back to the game. Nishikori sends a SW up the T, and he has a GP again. Kei consolidates after a wild FH UFE by Paire.
5-5: The crowd is firmly behind Paire now, and he responds by building a 40-0 lead, capped by a fantastic dropper. However, Paire goes to the dropper well again, and this time Nishikori makes him pay. However, an errant Nishikori FH DTL gives the game to Paire .
6-5, Paire: Nishikori races to a 40-15 lead, and a SW sends us to a breaker that seems to be absolutely pivotal.
Tiebreaker! Benoit Paire will serve first.
0-0: SW for Paire.
1-0, Paire: Ben absolutely lays into a CC BH, forces Nishikori’s error. MINIBREAK.
2-0, Paire: Another great BH by Paire forces Kei’s error. MINIBREAK.
3-0, Paire: Ben is zoning now, as he drives a BH DTL winner.
4-0, Paire: SW for Paire.
5-0, Paire: SW for Nishikori to stop the bleeding.
5-1, Paire: Nishikori drives a BH DTL winner after a short return.
5-2, Paire: FH UFE by Paire, MINIBREAK.
5-3, Paire: SW for Paire. 3 SPs for him, at least one of them on his serve.
6-3, Paire: Paire pounces on a strangely placed Nishikori serve with his BH, forces the error, and takes the set.
Second Set to Benoit Paire, 7-6 (3).
Here are your 2nd set stats:
Third Set – Kei Nishikori will serve first.
0-0: Nishikori opens with a rather straightforward hold.
1-0, Nishikori: Paire responds with an even quicker hold to love.
The obvious point to make is that winning the second set was absolutely crucial for Paire’s cause. He was losing the grip on his emotions, but somehow that point penalty on Set Point seemed to galvanize him, even through all the drama.
1-1: Nishikori holds serve rather easily once again. This is the classic Slam set in which the guys realize there’s much more tennis to be played, so they take it down a notch to recover from the tight set and face the possibility of this match going the distance.
2-1, Nishikori: Another very easy hold for Paire. We’re motoring along here.
2-2: Paire steps on the gas pedal, and goes up 0-30. However, he badly frames a FH, and then misplaces a volley badly. Then Nishikori yanks Ben all over the court with some smart shot placement, and arrives to GP. A SW seals the hold.
That might be a key game to look back to. Paire seemed to be set to have 2 BPs at 15-40, but he just couldn’t re-direct Nishikori’s body pass into the court.
3-2, Nishikori: Paire was up 30-15, but drills a BH DTL well wide. 30-all. Nishikori pounces on a 2nd serve, moves forward, and forces the error. 30-40, and BP for Kei, who has regained the handle on this match. Well, the BP was saved because Paire played a 2nd ball dropper…after Nishikori hit a hard FH return straight at him. Nishikori was completely surprised, and couldn’t track the dropper down. Deuce #1. Of course, Paire tries a dropper again, but this one is atrocious. BP #2 for Nishikori again, which goes unused after a rather silly CC BH UFE. However, Kei will have another BP, after he sends a blistering CC BH pass that Paire can’t handle. It goes begging, but this time due to a very good CC FH by Paire. Then, Paire hits a simply ridiculous I-O BH winner from the Deuce court sideline. GP for him, but a horrible dropper brings us back to Deuce. Paire again goes for the I-O BH…but his feet were nowhere near where they needed to be. BP #4 for Nishikori. Nishikori finds a way to pressure Paire’s FH, and he gets the break!
While stumbling backwards, Paire hit a brilliant angled inside-out backhand. Then he hits a few horrific dropshots and loses serve.
— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) June 1, 2013
4-2, Nishikori: Paire is a mess, and Nishikori goes up 40-0 without having to do much of anything. A SW up the T consolidates the break.
Again, this is so going 5.
Benoit Paire not pleased. (GTY) twitter.com/ByJoeFleming/s…
— Joe Fleming (@ByJoeFleming) June 1, 2013
5-2, Nishikori: Paire holds to 15. Not much to report here.
Crunch time for Kei, who’s done a wonderful job of managing the flow of the match up to this point.
5-3, Nishikori: FH UFE by Nishikori. Rinse and repeat, and it’s 0-30. Paire returns one of the gifts via a BH UFE. Ben then turns on the class, with a gorgeous BH DTL return, a great FH DTL approach, and a pretty FH volley. And then, Paire demolishes a Nishikori 2nd serve with a return that barely clips the tape. Paire is back on serve!
Well, that was quite a jinx I put on Kei, eh? Horrible start to the game for him, giving life to someone who had shown very little of it in this third set. After that, the game was out of his hands. It’s also not helping matters that the trend that established itself in the 1st set with Nishikori eating up Paire’s 2nd serve has reversed: it’s now Paire who seems to be devouring Nishikori’s 2nd serves.
5-4, Nishikori: Despite the disappointment of losing serve in that last game, Kei finds himself with 2 SPs at 15-40, after Paire tries yet another terrible dropper. However, both SPs are erased, and Nishikori had quite a hand in making that happen. Still, Kei will have another SP as a CC FH clips the net and dies a few inches into Paire’s court. And then…Ben pulls a Ben. 2nd ball dropper goes well wide, and the set is handed over to Nishikori.
There were some boos and whistles after that. Fully warranted, too.
Third Set to Kei Nishikori, 6-4.
Here are your 3rd set stats:
Fourth Set – Kei Nishikori will serve first.
0-0: Nishikori opens the fourth set with a very simple hold to 15.
1-0, Nishikori: Paire opens his service game with a pretty sad UFE and a DF. However, Kei helps him out with a FH UFE of his own. 15-30. Nishikori smartly goes to Paire’s FH, and draws the error that brings up 15-40. BP #1 is saved by a good serve + putaway FH combo. The second BP is saved by a fantastic BH DTL winner. Because…Paire. However, Kei goes on the offensive with his FH, looking to hit into the open court…until the very last shot, which he drills straight at Paire. The Frenchman is surprised, and sends a FH well wide. BP #3 for Nishikori, and he takes it with a fantastic I-I FH return winner.
And now Paire is arguing with Enric Molina again. Who knows what this is about.
2-0, Nishikori: Kei jumps to a 40-15 lead, with Paire looking like he wants to leave Lenglen in a hurry. However, Ben then puts together a gorgeous point that saves one GP. No matter: moments later Nishikori holds after a fantastic CC FH sends Paire tumbling down.
I’m not sure this is going 5 anymore.
3-0, Nishikori: To the surprise of no-one, Paire is down 30-40 on his serve after an array of questionable choices. Saves the BP with a SW, though. But Kei will have another chance at a break after Paire sends a FH DTL into the net. And the break comes after a Paire BH error.
Bit of a sad capitulation from Paire. Nisikori is rolling now, 4-0 up.
— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) June 1, 2013
“Capitulation” is the perfect word to describe what’s going on, really. This match has fizzled in a very unfortunate way.
4-0, Nishikori: Kei shows the value of experience, and well, of not being crazy, and holds to 15. He’s a game away from the match, and nothing short of aliens invading Paris will stop him from advancing to the round of 16. Ben Paire is already on a beach somewhere.
5-0, Nishikori: Ben Paire is going for big serves…or whatever else might end things quickly. He’s barely taking any time between deliveries. Somehow, he holds to 15. Bagel averted.
The last time Nishikori faced the music of serving out a set, he didn’t fare too well. Let’s see what happens now.
5-1, Nishikori: Paire starts by showing some signs of life, but 3 great serves by Nishikori make it 40-15. Double MP for Kei. Another great serve plus a thundering FH seals the end of the match.
Game, Set, and Match to Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1.
Here are your full match stats:
This match showed a lot of promise, and for two sets, it really did deliver. The points were intense, and the shotmaking was breathtaking. Sadly, two sets was as long as Benoit Paire could manage the many things going around his head in order to make this competitive.
Just like Jerzy Janowicz, it seems to me that Ben is a year away from getting a firmer grip on his many talents. He’s too inexperienced, and there are too many details about his game that are still underdeveloped. I was also unimpressed with how poorly Paire competed (different than “played” – this is more about effort) for most of the last two sets.
Still, the upside is enormous, really. So enormous that L’Equipe has predicted that Paire might be the 2nd best player in the world in five years time.
What worries me is that Paire is far from being a sure thing. If anything, he’s much closer to a disappointing destiny of being an erratically brilliant top 30 player for the rest of his career than a consistent run as a top 10 player. Just as Paire has trouble figuring out the proper shot selection, he struggles with the focus necessary to overcome matches like todays. Maybe he was on edge given the setting (nothing new for a French player), but the way Ben ended the match negated much of the good stuff he did in the first two sets.
As for Kei Nishikori, he seemed a little shaky at times, but in the end found ways to navigate through Paire’s chaos. The gap in experience showed, and Kei managed it rather well. The worrying signs were the UFEs at key moments of the match, and the sloppy service game he played at 5-3 in the third set. Still, it was admirable to see Kei gather himself after losing the second set – it really did seem like all the momentum was firmly behind Paire’s back.
In terms of being a prospect, Nishikori is almost through to being a fully-formed reality. His game is much more polished, and the best elements of it are closing in on elite level. If Kei stays healthy, there’s nothing that says he can’t finish the current season inside the top 10. His backhand is superb, and his return of serve is well above average. The key is that forehand, which is working better (and more consistently) than ever.
Nishikori is also learning to win matches when he’s not at his best, which is the single most important skill within the elite of tennis. Anybody can win a match when everything is clicking. It’s much more difficult to find ways to win when you’re quite certain that your best will not come to your aid in any given match. All we can hope for is that Kei’s body is finally read to withstand the physical grind of a full ATP season appropriate for a top 10 player. Right now, that’s the only thing holding him back.