Benoit Paire made a remarkable Davis Cup debut for France, outplaying an injured Pablo Carreno-Busta 7-5 6-1 6-0 in the opening rubber of the World Group semi-final tie against Spain at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Friday.
Paire had never been selected for his country in the 'World Cup of tennis' before, admitting himself that his explosive, erratic performances on court meant he could previously never properly be trusted.
Yet he has grown into a much more reliable and consistent performer in 2018 which prompted the champions' captain Yannick Noah to select him for his first tie at the unlikely age of 29 and he was rewarded with a virtuoso and merciless performance against an ailing opponent.
"I've waited a long time for this and it's a dream to win on my debut," said Paire. "Though it's been a long time, hopefully it's not too late for me and I'll get more chances.
"I'm really proud, as it was an important game for me and for my team to give us the lead."
Playing with real flair, not holding back and looking as if he was made for Davis Cup theatrics, Paire also showed real heart when struggling in the first set as he three times had to battle back from a set point down.
Paire, the world number 54, started with predictable unpredictability, delivering nine double faults in the opening set but after saving the set points with steel, the bearded shotmaker was freed to play his most attractive tennis.
His ascent coincided with Carreno Busta's struggles as the Spaniard, taking the team's number one spot in the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal, was hit by a recurrence of the adductor problem that forced him to withdraw during a second round match at the U.S. Open.
From 3-5 down, he rallied to win the next nine games and, in total, 16 of the last 17 as his all-court attacking approach showed up Carreno Busta's hampered movement as he succumbed in less than two hours.
"We knew there was some risk in playing but I felt really good yesterday and decided to play," explained Carreno Busta. "But I felt it again and it was getting worse so that at 3-0, 4-0 in the second set I knew it was impossible to come back."
Lucas Pouille, who annexed the winning point in last year's final in the same stadium, was on court later, hoping to give the champions a 2-0 lead against Roberto Bautista Agut.Reuters