Cameron Norrie survived a five-set battle with Frenchman Benoit Paire and the lively Roland Garros crowd to keep British hopes in the singles alive.
There looked set to be a British wipe-out for the second time in four editions in Paris when Norrie trailed 4-2 in the deciding set on Suzanne Lenglen after Jack Draper was forced to retire injured.
But 14th seed Norrie showed his battling qualities again to pull off a 7-5 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4 victory after three hours and 33 minutes.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 29, 2023
And he can expect more of the same in the second round when he takes on a resurgent Lucas Pouille, who has been the toast of Roland Garros this week after coming through qualifying following injury and personal problems.
“It was an amazing match,” said Norrie. “All credit to Benoit. He played really well. He made it really difficult. Great atmosphere, thank you to everyone for the support both ways, it was amazing. I’m pleased to be through after a really tough one.”
Paire, possessor of one of the best beards in sport but not one of the best temperaments, has toyed with retirement at the age of 34 and came into the event as a wild card ranked 134.
When they met in the same round at the US Open last summer, Norrie won two lightning quick sets 6-0 either side of a competitive second, with Paire packing up his bag before the match had finished.
The Frenchman said afterwards it could have been his final match but he decided to continue and his attitude was much better here.
He probably should have won a scrappy first set that lasted almost an hour, breaking for 4-3 and then having seven more break points after Norrie had levelled.
The 27-year-old has struggled for wins over the last two months after a brilliant start to the season and there was not the same certainty on his groundstrokes that British tennis fans have been accustomed to.
Norrie’s biggest weapon is his consistency but here he was caught between dropping shots too short and pushing them long and it was his fighting spirit and a dependable wide serve to Paire’s backhand that helped him through the opener.
— Eurosport (@eurosport) May 29, 2023
Norrie looked a little more relaxed at the start of the second set and immediately had a break point but it was he who was broken to trail 2-1 after a contentious moment when umpire Nico Helwerth docked him a point for what appeared a very harsh hindrance call at 30-30, the official claiming Norrie had shouted out during play.
The crowd were in full voice when Paire managed to hold to level the match, and the French national anthem boomed around Suzanne Lenglen when their man broke again to lead 2-1 in the third set.
With Paire feeding off the support, Norrie was kept on the back foot and this corner of Paris was in party mood as the Frenchman moved two sets to one in front.
The fourth set went by in a flash, with Paire broken early and then appearing to save himself for a decider, where Norrie handed his opponent the initiative again right at the start with a game full of errors.
But the British number one did not allow his head to drop and his probing earned dividends with a break back for 4-4 before Paire finally cracked.