his comeback from injury continues, former world #1 and 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic meets mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire in the Miami Open second round. Djokovic is a six-time champion at Crandon Park and has won 33 of his last 34 matches in the Sunshine State. But Paire, who was once ranked as high as #18 is a tricky opponent at the best of times, and the best of times these are certainly not for Djokovic. Who will come out on top in this intriguing clash?
Djokovic and Paire have met once previously. That match came in 2015 at the Cincinnati Masters, the only Masters 1000 event that Djokovic has never won. But the Serbian was victorious against Paire, despite a good start from the Avignon native. A late break in the first set sealed it for Djokovic and he never looked back, dominating the second set 6-2 to advance. He would go on to reach the final where Federer denied him in straight sets.
Path to the second round
Djokovic, seeded ninth, received a bye into the second round, as did all the seeds in Miami. Paire, however, ranked 47th, began in the first round against Germany’s Mischa Zverev. The elder brother of world #5 Alexander, Mischa Zverev has endured a similarly difficult start to the year as his sibling. The net-rusher was forced to retire in the first round of the Australian Open, costing him his prize money and the ranking points he earned there last year when he reached the quarterfinals.
He came into Miami with just three wins to his name, against eight losses, and was struggling badly for form. But he made a fine start at Crandon Park, serving terrifically and breaking Paire with ease to canter to the first set which he won 6-1. But an early break for Paire in the second completely changed the complexion of the match. The Frenchman grew in confidence and stature and his opponent withered as Paire completed a 1-6 6-1 6-2 comeback win.
How do they match up?
Last time out against Taro Daniel in Indian Wells Djokovic looked rusty and was unable to find any rhythm. Despite a promising start that saw him leading 5-2 at one point, his game fell away swiftly. His backhand, usually a rock solid shot, was wayward with the Serbian at times seemingly unable to find the court with it. Daniel quickly began to exploit this weakness, and also took advantage Djokovic’s lack of match-fitness, engaging him in long, gruelling baseline rallies.
Djokovic, having had another week or so to prepare and get closer to the level of fitness he expects from himself, will hope to put on a more determined display this time out. He also looked to be suffering with illness or allergies in Indian Wells, with him repeatedly coughing and blowing his nose throughout the match. If those issues have cleared up, then one should expect to see a sharper display from the former world #1, with something closer to his usual consistency from the back of the court.
But if he is looking for rhythm, he is unlikely to find it against Paire. The Frenchman plays a brand of tennis that is not unlike his showman compatriot Gael Monfils’, only without the consistency. That his favourite shot is the drop shot sums up his game fairly well. But for all that, he certainly does not lack talent. His two-handed backhand is a formidable weapon and he has power on the serve and forehand as well. When he is on song he is a hard man to stop.
A week further into his comeback from injury and surgery, Djokovic should be feeling a little more comfortable on the court. And that, whilst not enough to fire him to the title yet, should be enough to get him through the challenge of Benoit Paire. Though Paire has the quality to spring a surprise, it’s hard to see him putting in such a spirited performance as Daniel did in Indian Wells, and Djokovic should be playing better tennis this week. Djokovic to reach the third round.
Who do you think will win the match? Let us know in the comments below!