Philadelphia, PA – French tennis has certainly picked up the pace in recent years -- well, on the men's side anyway -- and the latest of its quality ball-strikers is Benoit Paire.
With a win Friday in Rome, Paire surged into his first-ever ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semifinal. He has been a steady climber over the last two seasons.
The 6-foot-5 Avignon native, who turned 24 on May 8, was ranked 95th in the world at the end of 2011, finished 2012 at No. 47 after being one of the most-improved players for the year and currently rests at No. 36 as his stock continues to rise. He's climbed in the rankings in each of his seven professional seasons.
Is he as good as some of his fellow countrymen, like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon?
He just may be.
Paire recorded the first Top-10 win of his career by stunning world No. 7 and former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in Rome this week.
"(This season) I am making the progress we want with my coach (Lionel Zimbler). When you see the match with del Potro -- it was the best match," Paire said.
Paire is enjoying the best season of his career, reaching a career-high No. 32 in the world last month. He landed in his second career ATP final in Montpellier in his native France in February, losing to the current world No. 9 Gasquet, and he was a semifinalist in Chennai, India, back in January.
His first career final came last year at the now-defunct Serbia Open in Belgrade, where he lost to steady Italian Andreas Seppi.
The clay-court-loving Paire has some quality wins this year against the likes of del Potro, Marin Cilic and compatriot Gilles Simon, but one area that needs major improvement would be his results at the majors. The talented Frenchman has reached the third round (Wimbledon 2012) at only one of his 10 career Grand Slams, including an opening-round loss at this year's Australian Open.
The tall, slender Paire, nicknamed "La Tige," boasts a quality two-fisted backhand and certainly is a creative player, like most Frenchmen, but if he wants to challenge the big boys, he'll have to work on his forehand. His overall game has steadily improved to the point where I believe the forehand can follow suit.
Paire will take a crack at reaching the second week at the second major of the year when the French Open swings into action in less than two weeks.
Can he do it?