A few years ago Eurosport predicted which ATP players would be in the top 10 in the world in 2018. While long range predictions in tennis are always risky (and who knows how serious it was intended to be), it was a fun exercise in imagining who may be at the top of the game down the road. One of the beneficiaries of the projected rankings was Frenchman Benoit Paire in the number two spot, who at the time was coming into his own as a talented shot-maker with major upside.
Despite his talent, Paire has hardly been a hallmark of consistency. Granted he's had some injuries that have slowed his progress, but as with Fognini, Gulbis and a host of others, his own head has probably kept him from serious success more than anything. The high projected ranking has been somewhat of a joke in tennis circles for the last couple years, as Paire didn't even enter 2015 in the top 100.
But based on the way Paire has been playing lately, the 26 year old Frenchman may be the one with the last laugh. Paire began the year playing mostly Challengers, qualifying events, and even a Futures, but after reaching the finals in Tokyo he shouldn't be far from reaching the top 20 in the world (a win in the finals over Wawrinka might get him there). Along the way, Paire has knocked off Dimitrov, Baghdatis, Kyrgios and Nishikori (all in three sets), who he also beat during his US Open run to the Round of 16 after saving match points. What's particularly impressive isn't just that Paire is getting quality wins, but how tough of a competitor he's been in doing so.
It's hard to say where Paire will go from here. As well as he's been playing, his lack of a dominant forehand (seemingly a necessity in the modern game) could hold him back. Maybe he'll pull a Gulbis and follow his strong 2015 by falling completely off the map in 2016. Or maybe he'll build on his momentum, take advantage of being seeded in most tournaments he plays and make a run towards the top of the game. Number 2 in the world may still seem a bit out of reach, but it no longer seems so crazy to imagine Paire with a spot in the top 10 by 2018.