Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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In the 95 years since it was inaugurated, the mighty Centre Court has seen everything tennis has to offer. But the famous stage can rarely have hosted a more eye-catchingly eccentric display than that of Centre Court debutant Benoit Paire during his fourth round defeat to Andy Murray.
The Frenchman’s nailed-on devotion to drop shots initially looked like cunning exploitation of the world No.1’s left hip injury, forcing Murray to scamper to the net time and again. But such was the frequency of the tactic that at times Paire appeared unaware that tennis has alternative shots available.
Both players appeared to find the process frustrating, often audibly so. Ultimately the defending champion won through to his tenth consecutive quarter-final here, 7-6(1), 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 21 minutes. He will face Sam Querrey for a place in the last four.
“This match was by far the best, the cleanest, I have hit the ball here,” said a satisfied Murray. “I was happy about that. Last couple of days, practice has been really good as well. I didn't feel great during my last match. I didn't feel like I played so well, not loads of rhythm in the first two matches. I definitely felt better today.
“I said at the beginning of the tournament, I'll be able to get through seven matches, if that's what I have to do. Obviously I want to try to get to the final. And, yeah, I've done a good job so far here.”
Much about 28-year-old Paire defies the norm. At 6ft 5in, he is so tall and gangly that his nickname is La Tige (“the stalk”); while his luxuriant beard may have put the All England Club president HRH The Duke of Kent, watching from the Royal Box, in mind of sundry bewhiskered forbears. Neither Paire’s tennis talent nor his athleticism is in doubt. It’s just that his on-court choices can be so – how can one phrase it? – random.
This match was by far the best, the cleanest, I have hit the ball here
That much was clear when he challenged (unsuccessfully) on the second point of the match, when precisely nothing was at stake. Despite the deluge of drop shots, it was a small illustration of the incongruous unpredictability to his game. If “weird” can be uses as a verb, at times during this match it appeared he was seeking to weird the No.1 seed into defeat.
But outright reverse was never truly on the cards here. After all, Murray has never lost to a player ranked as low as Paire – No.46 – at Wimbledon. Nor had he lost to a Frenchman at any Slam in the past nine years, and Paire was attempting to beat a top 20 player on grass for the first time.
But Paire was ranked as high as No.18 early last year, and he tested Murray sufficiently that this encounter is unlikely to be a memory the two-time Wimbledon champion will treasure. Time and again the Scot railed at his players’ box, starting when he was broken for 1-2 in the opening set, and having levelled, again for 2-3 when Paire opened the court for a winning opportunity. Murray could be heard bellowing: “Legs! Legs! Backward movement!” But from 2-4 Murray snatched three straight games, and at 6-5 he could be seen reading the motivational notes he carries with him in his kit bag. The breaker was all Murray.
He punched through again at the start of the second, with Paire’s errors so random that they didn’t seem to relate to attempted winners in the usual way; and after Paire delivered his thousandth or so drop shot, it was entertaining to recall that there was a time when Murray was considered over-reliant on that very stroke. Meanwhile the Scot levelled for 3-3, after which an eight-point streak took him to the brink of the second set. Yet he was still required to fend off four break points before serving it out.
Murray’s frustration was still visible – “you have no idea!” he told himself at full volume – and he had a right old verbal tangle with the umpire, Mohamed Lahyani, about a misunderstood attempt to challenge. Paire, who was attempting to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time, deserves credit for amassing 50 winners against a player of Murray’s quality, but nonetheless the Scot grabbed his 26th straight Tour-level victory over French opposition.