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Love him or hate him, brash, big-bearded Benoit keeps Paris entertained

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Paris (AFP)

Brash and big-bearded, Benoit Paire has been booed off more courts than he'd care to remember but in Paris' gathering gloom on Wednesday evening, he was welcomed back into the arms of Roland Garros after winning a four and a half hour epic to knock out compatriot Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

His 6-2, 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (6/8), 11-9 on Court Suzanne Lenglen saw the mercurial 30-year-old reach the last 32 for the third time.

It also extended the thaw in his often icy relationship with notoriously fickle French crowds which started last weekend when he lifted the title in Lyon.

"Even though I'm playing against Pierre-Hugues, and even when they were supporting Pierre-Hugues, I felt it was perfectly normal.

"We're in France. We are both French, and they are supporting us, and no problem. But I felt the public is not going to make me win this match.

"There were so many people in my mind already that I didn't need anyone else."

Paire is flamboyant on the court. On Wednesday, he unleashed 84 winners and 75 unforced errors.

He is equally prone to headline-making off it.

In 2016, he was booted off the Rio Olympic team and sent home for "flouting team rules".

At the All England Club in 2014, he said he "hated Wimbledon...the tournament displeases me greatly".

In Washington last summer, he was booed off court for destroying three racquets and in February this year, his relationship with French fans was not as cosy as it was on Wednesday.

In Marseille, he was jeered off again before taking aim at his accusers.

"There are two who jeer and whistle, then the rest follow like sheep," he said.

His win over Herbert in the longest match of the tournament so far, also allowed him a platform to encourage Roland Garros organisers not to follow in the footsteps of the US and Australian Opens and Wimbledon by introducing a final set tiebreak.

"Emotions like this tonight would have been spoilt if there had been a tiebreak," he insisted.

"I'm against the tiebreak. When you see the public, they are, like, crazy in those moments. They are taking great pleasure in these moments."

Paire was not the only French veteran enjoying a moment in the spotlight on Wednesday.

Nicolas Mahut, 37 years old and down at 252 in the world rankings, hadn't won a match on the tour since the US Open last summer.

But he celebrated his 400th career win by seeing off Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to make the third round.

In the first round, he had come back from two sets down to defeat 16th seed Marco Cecchinato, a semi-finalist last year.

Since his 2000 debut, Mahut has won just eight singles matches at Roland Garros.

However, in his press conference, Mahut was asked if he should now be considered tennis's answer to Benjamin Button, the movie and literary character who ages in reverse.

"This sport is crazy because three weeks ago I had to walkover in Bordeaux, in Rome, in Madrid. I had doubts about Lyon, and then I decided not to go.

"And then before the qualies, after some practice with the coaches, I said, I'm going to give my wild card back. And I'm here now at the third round. It's crazy."

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