NEW YORK—Benoit Paire was about to serve at 5-4 in the fifth set, and he really needed to talk to someone. This being a tennis match, he couldn’t call his coach over from the other side of the court, or even ask for advice from the fans sitting nearby. So he made do with the person closest to him, the chair umpire.
“One more game,” Paire said as he furiously rewrapped his grip.
Not receiving an answer from on high, the Frenchman turned slightly in the umpire’s direction and repeated himself.
“One more game.”
Paire never did get a response, and it’s hard to imagine he expected one. By that point, the 26-year-old was simply thinking out loud, trying as hard as he could to remind himself that he was just a single service game, a measly four points, away from the biggest win of his career. When the umpire finally called time, though, Paire apparently hadn't convinced himself that he could pull it off. As the seconds ticked away and the crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium stood to cheer, he kept wrapping away furiously at his grip.
There was no way out of it, though. While Paire had saved two match points in a fourth-set tiebreaker and caught fire in the fifth, he still needed one more hold of serve to eliminate No. 4 seed and 2014 finalist Kei Nishikori, and record the first Top 5 win of his career. In the end, despite losing the first point, Paire strutted through the final game like it was a proverbial promenade dans le parc. By then, after three hours and 10 minutes of play, he knew he had an unbeatable weapon up his sleeve—or, more precisely, just below his sleeve.
Paire had been serving lights out for most of the afternoon, and no matter how worried he was at this moment, no amount of anxiety was going to get in the way of that shot now. At 0-15, he hit a service winner; at 15-15, he dared to come in behind a second serve and won the point; at 30-15, he hit another service winner; and at match point, he uncorked a 133-M.P.H. ace, his 21st of the day.
“I had a really good serve today,” Paire said afterward, as if that were all the explanation that was needed for his stunning win.