It’s as if Wimbledon conspired to keep things as weird as possible for its top seed Andy Murray, who has been fed a steady procession of head cases with games that defy the best-laid plans.
Last week it was the mystifying junkball of Dustin Brown, then the stoned shotmaking of Fabio Fognini, and today, the world No. 46 Benoît Paire. Murray weathered Paire’s storm—most of it took place in the Frenchman’s own head—to win their fourth round match 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-4.
One of the most prolific and creative racket smashers of the modern era, Paire has the dense beard of a microbrewer and groundstrokes so different from one another that it is hard to believe they are attached to the same person. His forehand is a gawky loop that floats over the net like a wounded bird, struggling to inch past the service line. But his backhand is a smooth, idiosyncratic baseball swing that makes crushingly flat contact and a gratifying pop. It is one of the most charming shots in the men’s game, and it is disproportionately responsible for the magic he works on court, in fits and starts.
Courtesy of those fits, Paire created a some real chances for himself. The Frenchman quickly shot up 4-2 in the first set before getting broken back and imploding in the eventual tiebreak. Murray, whose first serve, never huge, looked especially mild today—he averaged just 111 mph on those deliveries—faced 11 break points, and Paire converted on just three of those. On a crucial break opportunity at 4-5 in the second, Paire chose to stop play and challenge a deep ball that had landed squarely on the line, clear enough to see on TV. Later on in the third set, when the match looked well out of reach, he would (sincerely) thank the umpire for not allowing him to challenge a different call, as if to make explicit what everyone watching knew well: Paire’s significant talent is hostage to a mind so tempted by bad decisions, it’s a relief when someone saves him from himself.