Roland Garros 2019: Benoit Paire aiming for 1st French Open victory against Kei Nishikori in R16 blockbuster
On Sunday, May's two-week annual clay court bonanza gets ready to enter its business end. What started with 128 players last Sunday has quickly reduced to just 16 competitors. With eight matches set to be played between Sunday and Monday, here is a preview of one of the most highly-anticipated R16 clashes - Benoit Paire vs Kei Nishikori.
This is the ninth meeting between Nishikori and Paire - fourth on clay - and the third at Roland Garros. Nishikori has won both previous meetings at the French Open - in 2013 and in 2018. Last year's battle took five sets to decide, and there is no reason to think that this will be any shorter.
Coming into the French Open this year, few players have been hotter than France's Benoit Paire. Paire won two clay court tournaments in the lead-up to the French Open - the Grand Prix Hassan II and more recently, the Lyon Open.
He suffered just one break of serve during his final two matches in Lyon. After knocking out Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta in the third round, Paire said to reporters, "I said, Benoit, are you going to continue the season like that? Nothing will happen.. or do you decide to be OK in your head and have the right mindset? Then you don't know what will happen."
Paire continued his fine form from Lyon against Marius Copil in the first round of Roland Garros, winning in four sets and winning all of his service games.
Unfortunately, the Benoit Paire of old reared its ugly head in the second round against fellow countryman, Pierre Hugues-Herbert, as Paire squandered a two-set lead in what turned into a marathon five-setter that he ended up winning 11-9 in the fifth.
Paire showed much more focus in his third-round clash against Pablo Carreno-Busta, taking a two sets to one lead before the Spaniard retired.
In the fourth round, Paire faces his greatest challenge yet in Japan's Kei Nishikori. Entering the French Open, Nishikori had endured a poor run of results, making just one semi-final appearance, at Barcelona. However, he has truly stepped up his game in this tournament, channeling some of his best form.
Quentin Halys, Nishikori's first-round opponent, failed to put up any sort of fight. In the second round, despite dropping the opening set to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nishikori kept his composure, securing a relatively simple four-set win.
However, Nishikori's tendency to play long matches against relatively weaker opponents meant he took over four hours to defeat 23-year-old Serbian Laslo Djere in a match that saw him fall behind by two breaks in the final set.
After the match, Nishikori said, "Falling behind 3-0 (in the final set) was frustrating because my opponent kept raising his game over and over. I was thinking that maybe winning was impossible, but that I might catch a break. That's all it was."
Leading by a set and a break, Nishikori looked in complete command but Djere broke the Japanese's serve in a game that he trailed 0-40 at one point in time. It's moments such as these that force people to question whether Nishikori will ever be able to win a Grand Slam title.
The result of Sunday's match notwithstanding, we are in store for another Roland Garros classic between the suddenly hot Benoit Paire and the mercurial Kei Nishikori.