Benoit Paire will need to be on his game against a tricky veteran opponent as he gets his campaign in Toronto off on Tuesday at the Rogers Cup. Radek Stepanek made it through qualifying, including a tense tiebreak win in the third set in the final round.
(14) Benoit Paire vs (Q) Radek Stepanek
All things Benoit Paire were on display last week in his first foray back onto hard courts since the Spring. He showed his sometimes brilliant backhand and tough first serve in scoring wins over Jared Donaldson and Gilles Muller. Paire also showed his proclivity for not landing his first serve that allows his opponent to tee off on a weak second serve. He also sprayed his forehand too often like he was trying to hit all points on a compass without getting the ball into play. That saw him get trounced by Alexander Zverev 6-1, 6-3 in the third round. Paire is 3-2 in two trips to the Rogers Cup. He made the third round in 2013 and lost a tough three set to his BFF Stan Wawrinka in last year’s second round.
Stepanek is continuing to try and rebuild his singles ranking in Toronto. He enters the week still ranked outside the Top 100 at #129, but that is up almost 80 spots from the beginning of the season. He is ranked fairly well considering he was in the 280s this time last year. Any main draw wins he gets are rankings boosters that could finally get him back into the Top 100 and away from having to play qualifying. That might be the goal by the U.S. Open, albeit that might still be a long shot. Still, he was solid enough to get through two rounds of qualifying and poses a tricky out for Paire in this spot. Stepanek will seek his first main draw win at this event since 2013.
This match-up marks the first ever meeting between these two, which means the first set could be a bit dicey as they both sort each other out. Paire’s main concern should be landing his first serve. Last week in D.C., he only got his first serve in play 43 percent of the time in three matches. That included a putrid 37 percent against Zverev in a straights loss. When he can flip his first serve into play, he can dominate the action, but those moments are some time too far between. If Stepanek is allowed to look at his second serve over and over, the Czech veteran will find ways to break him down off the ground.
Stepanek himself is not immune to service problems, but his are a general issue. At the age of 37, he doesn’t bring big pop to his serve. Still, he can still use placement to effectively engage Paire into poor court positioning for rallies. Targeting Paire’s forehand is a must for any opponent as it simply is prone to inconsistency and errors. The Frenchman’s backhand is often sublime and definitely is a weapon.
For Paire, he’s likely going to be forced in to the net some against Stepanek who still employs plenty of serve and volley. Stepanek is still a solid doubles player whose volley skills will put most to task. Paire moves decently, but is more comfortable being able to exchange from the baseline rather than moving in a bunch. I think the more Stepanek can make him move in, the better the chances the Czech can force Paire into some potential miscues.
For Paire to be successful in this one, he needs to get his first serve percentage up to at least 50 percent. When his first serve is firing, it is a weapon and greatly enhances the rest of his game. If he’s fluttering in the 40s or lower again, then Stepanek is going to be in it to win it. This one should feature some good back and forth. The Pig is tempted to go with the Czech for the upset, but the fact is that he hasn’t scored a win against a player inside the Top 30 on this surface since 2013. It’s difficult to predict if Paire can show enough consistency from match-to-match, but the feeling here is that he has just a bit more on this surface than Stepanek..
Benoit Paire wins in three sets