Roger Federer finds himself back atop the world rankings having leapfrogged Rafael Nadal last week, despite Nadal’s French Open victory. He has a 21-2 record so far this year and has won four of the last five Halle Open events. His opponent, Benoit Paire, is the world #48, and is coming off a clay court season in which he consistently found himself bundled out in the second round of tournaments. He will be looking to avoid that trend continuing here.
These two have met five times in their careers, and so far Paire has been unable to win a match. In fact, all five matches have been won in straight sets by Federer. The semifinal at the World Tour Masters 1000 in Rome back in 2013 was the closest the Frenchman has got, losing 6-7 4-6, but aside from that it has been tough going for Paire. They met twice last year, first in Dubai and then in Basel, and Federer won both matches 6-1 6-3.
Path to the second round
Both of these players made it through the first round with straight sets victories, though neither's progress was entirely comfortable. Federer didn’t have it entirely his own way against the Slovakian world #72 Aljaz Bedene, but managed to win through 6-3 6-4. Despite the relatively close score line though, he never looked in danger of losing the match, dominating on his own serve and winning 70 points to Bedene’s 49.
Paire had a close call against American Steve Johnson. The straight sets score line belies how hard Paire had to work for his 7-5 7-6 win in a match that took over two hours to complete. Johnson actually outplayed the Frenchman for large periods of the match, but Paire triumphed because he was able to win the points that mattered most. He converted all three of his break points; in contrast, Johnson converted just two of his eight opportunities.
How do they match up?
These two players have vastly contrasting game styles. Federer is rightly renowned for his all-court brilliance , and ability to play under control. He is elite in virtually all aspects of the game, possesses no obvious flaws and has had considerable success on all surfaces. Grass, however, is where he is most comfortable, something which has resulted in four Halle Open Championships in the past five years and eight career Wimbledon titles.
In contrast, Paire is renowned for inconsistency. Standing at 6’5”, he possesses a strong serve and a powerful backhand, though both of these can at times desert him. His forehand is a weakness, so expect Federer to engage him in a number of cross-court baseline rallies on the deuce court. He is an aggressive player, and will likely to try to finish points relatively quickly against a player who he knows will win the majority of any extended rallies.
Paire is an enigmatic player and has the ability to mix it with the best of them. But Federer will be far too strong for him in Germany. Expect a number of mistakes, too many, in fact, from the Frenchman as a result of his inability to beat Federer in extended rallies. The Swiss star will go about his business with his usual efficiency and get this done with relative ease, winning in two comfortable sets.