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Match of the Day: Tsitsipas picks Paire apart

  • Ravi Ubha

Stefanos Tsitsipas featured at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday but likely didn't want to linger on the grand stage since it marked another sweltering day at Australian Open 2022 with temperatures rising to 32 degrees Celsius.

MORE: Men's singles results AO 2022

The fourth seed didn't quite get his wish yet still advanced in four sets over the bearded Benoit Paire 6-3 7-5 6-7(2) 6-4 in two hours, 42 minutes to reach the fourth round in Melbourne.  

The build-up

Both players endured less than ideal preparation for AO 22 due to health issues, so meeting in the third round certainly wasn't guaranteed.

Tsitsipas underwent right elbow surgery in November for a long-standing concern and sat out his singles opener against Hubert Hurkacz at the ATP Cup.

He played one completed singles match in the team event but said on the eve of The Australian Open that his elbow felt close to 100 percent.

Former junior No.1 Sebastian Baez gave Tsitsipas all he could handle for two sets Thursday, with the 2019 semifinalist then pulling away. 

Paire revealed on Instagram in late December that he tested positive for Covid once again, leaving him disgruntled.

MORE: Men's singles draw AO 2022

The World No.56 retired one game from defeat in a warmup in Melbourne, then succumbed in his opener in Adelaide – though to the eventual champion, Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Once at AO 22, Paire battled past Thiago Monteiro in five sets – crunching 30 aces – prior to upsetting former semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov in four sets and three-and-a-half hours.

A big match on a big court packed with fans, Paire reveled in the atmosphere at Court 3. He broke down in a French TV interview post-match. 

How the match unfolded

After those two draining encounters, Paire started slowly against Tsitsipas and it was all the latter needed to take the opener in 33 minutes. 

But Paire didn't disappear. 

Unable to hit his favored drop shot off both sides in the first, more of those came in the second, as did some punch on his weaker forehand. 

He earned his first two break points of the set at 1-0, the second one acrobatically erased by Tsitsipas thanks to a stretched high forehand volley winner.

Paire held firm for 2-1, saving a trio of break points of his own, the second courtesy of a textbook drop shot, passing shot combination. 

Tsitsipas, not for the first time in his career, received a warning for coaching serving at 3-4 – which he queried while offering a sheepish grin – but it hardly affected the Greek. 

His court coverage was on full display in breaking at 5-5, scurrying to retrieve an angled forehand drop shot to keep the point going before Paire miscued on a backhand.

Still the French supporters in the stands sang, "Benoit, Benoit," adding to the chorus from Tsitsipas' many backers. 

Paire tweaked his tactics in the third, making more and more forays to the net and with success.  

They went with serve, showman Paire offering a tweener facing the net at 3-3 and crushing a first serve to save a break point at 4-4. 

He hung on to force a tiebreak, elevating his game to earn a 4-1 advantage. 

A Tsitsipas double fault – just his second – at 2-4 helped seal his fate.

Tsitsipas still rolled on serve, not facing a break point in the fourth. And not for the first time, a player serving to stay in the match while on serve succumbed. 

Paire began the 10th game with a double fault and struck another one at 0-30 on the way to a break to love.

Down but not out: Tsitsipas is through to the final 16

Tsitsipas pumped his fist in delight seconds later. 

"Benoit is someone that I would say is one of the biggest talents in our game," Tsitsipas, who improved to 4-1 against Paire, said on court. "It was a very important victory for me."

The key stat

From the latter stages of the second and into the third, Tsitsipas surged to 16 straight points on serve.

Paire sunk to 1-12 against top-10 opposition at majors, his lone victory seven years ago at the US Open versus Kei Nishikori. 

What does it mean for Paire?

Paire's performance at AO 22 sets the 32-year-old up nicely for the rest of the season.

He lost in the first round at all four Grand Slams last year, not getting this far at a major since 2019 Wimbledon.

What next for Tsitsipas?

Tsitsipas' challenger on Monday, Taylor Fritz, might be playing the finest tennis of his career.

The American – at a career high 22 in the rankings – won 12 of his final 16 matches in 2022. In another boost, Fritz outlasted the dogged Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets Saturday.

Tsitsipas beat Fritz in their lone tournament match at the Paris Masters in 2019.

"We grew up playing together," said Tsitsipas. "He has improved a lot in the last couple of years so definitely someone that I'm going try and take very serious and try to bring the best out of my game."