Benoit Paire is ready to try his luck for the fifth time in Chennai Open. The World No. 47, seeded fifth this year, has reached the semifinals twice (2014 and 2016) and is looking to start 2017 on the right note, after a largely forgettable year that saw him being banned by the French Tennis Federation for indiscipline during the Rio Olympics.
The Frenchman will begin his campaign against Russian Konstantin Kravchuk in the singles. More interestingly, he and his doubles partner Steve Darcis have been pitted against India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan and Saketh Myneni in the doubles first round.
He spoke to the media on his preparations, superstitions and more.
Excerpts from the interview:
Question: How has your preparation been for Chennai Open?
Answer: I had a good preparation. I have been practicing a lot with Thierry (Champion) who has been coaching me since the U.S. Open. I also did a lot of boxing because physically I was not so good and I wanted to try something else. With boxing, I think it was a good idea. We will see.
Croatian Borna Coric is also into boxing. How does boxing help a tennis player?
It helps because, mentally it is totally different. You have to be focussed every time or you get hit. In match, the thing I have to improve is to stay focussed. Sometimes I don’t play good and it’s because I don’t focus.
What do you think about the player field at Chennai Open?
There are a lot of good players in the tournament. We have (Marin) Cilic, Bautista (Agut) and we also have (Borna) Coric who made the finals last year. I think the draw is tough but I think I can do something good. I am seed No. 5 and I will fight my best. If I can reach the semifinal like last year, it will be a good start for this year.
What makes you to come back to Chennai again and again?
I like the city. I like to start the season here. I think it’s good because it’s not too hot and I prefer these conditions. Honestly, it’s a good tournament to start the season for me. I like to come back every year.
How difficult is it to juggle playing singles and doubles in the same tournament?
I made the final last year and I won with (Stanislas) Wawrinka a few years ago. Honestly, this tournament is good for me and I had some good results. I played two semifinals. To play the singles and doubles here is good for my preparation for the Australian Open as I get to play some matches at the beginning of the year. I am happy to play singles and doubles.
You are playing doubles with Steve Darcis this year. How do you rate your chances?
We have played together before as we were in the same team in France. Playing doubles with him is a pleasure and we are playing against two Indian guys. It will not be easy, but I will try to do my best in singles and doubles.
What do you think needs to be done to bring in more singles players to play doubles in Grand Slams?
I think it is tough because you need to win three sets to progress in Grand Slams. If you play five sets and then play doubles, it will not be easy. Focus should be on the singles for sure.
What if Grand Slam singles are made to be best of three instead of best of five?
It should always be best of five. For every player, singles is the most important thing. If you ask me if I want to play singles or the doubles in Grand Slams, for sure I will say singles. It has got to be best of five.
Your best performance came in the U.S. Open in 2015. (He upset 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori in the first round and defeated Tommy Robredo in the third round before losing to Tsonga in the fourth). What went wrong after that?
I feel 2015 was a good year for me. I finish the year as World No. 18 and now I am No. 47. Last year wasn’t good. That’s why I wanted to try something else and wanted to be more focussed. If I want to play in the same level as I did at the 2015 U.S. Open, I need to be more focussed physically, and [better] mentally. Honestly, if [I] don’t keep myself physically fit, I can’t give good results. I had good results, made four semifinals but also had a lot of first-round losses.
You had a run in with the French Tennis Federation after the Olympics that saw you being handed a suspension till February. What does Davis Cup mean for you?
I love Davis Cup and I want to play Davis Cup. For me, if I play tennis, it’s for my country. I am not in good terms with the federation because of the Olympics. Something happened…The federation said you can’t play until February, so we will see [what] happens afterwards. We have a lot of good players in France. We have Tsonga, Simon, Monfils and Pouille. For the moment, the only thing I want to focus on is my tennis and to play a good tournament. If I do that well, I will play the Davis Cup.
Do you think the punishment was too harsh?
They tell me to not play Davis Cup, they decide. I want to play the Davis Cup but I can’t, there’s nothing more to it.
You have expressed displeasure playing in Wimbledon, about playing on grass courts. Has it changed now?
My views haven’t changed. I don’t like that tournament that much. That’s life. Sometimes, you like some tournament, sometimes you don’t. For me, I don’t like grass. I like clay, so I like Roland Garros.
You had a close match with Andy Murray in the Monte Carlo masters where he came back from set and match point down to beat you. Many call that the turning point that propelled him to No. 1 in the world. What’s your take on that match?
It was a good match against him but I lost. Honestly, I know I can play good. Last year was not good for me, but it was good for him. He beat me and after that he is World No. 1. I am happy for him. Congratulations, Andy. He can say ‘Thank you’ to me now (chuckles).
You are branded as a flashy player and a striking figure on the court. How is Benoit Paire in real life?
My character is different and I don’t want to change when I am on court. I am like this in life, I like to enjoy life and be happy. Yes, sometimes my character in court is not good too as I keep breaking some racquets. We will see this year… but I broke one just two days ago (smiles again).
Last year during the matches, you kept changing your shoes. Is it a superstition?
I didn’t play good last year, so I changed. Now I have a new sponsor for my shoes, so I will wear the same shoes and we will see if it is working or not. If I don’t, it’s because of me, not because of the shoes…