Photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Denis Shapovalov is through to the second round of the French Open for just the second time in his young career, overcoming a stern challenge from French veteran Gilles Simon.

The 9th-seeded Canadian advanced 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 in three hours, 31 minutes, though the win wasn’t without its challenges against one of the most prolific defensive players over the last two decades and an especially tough match-up for anyone in the first round of a Grand Slam – particularly one in France.

Shapovalov got off to a less-than-ideal start, dropping serve easily in the first game of the match and quickly going down an early deficit. He wasn’t deterred, however, and two games later managed to not only break back but break again – and then again two games after that – to dish out a virtual ‘bagel’ set and earn the set advantage.

But the run of games would end there. Simon, a consistent performer across all four Slam events but who has never made it past the fourth round at his home nation’s crown jewel, steadied his focus and surged ahead to a 3-0 lead in the second.

In a near carbon copy of his first-set comeback, the Canadian would ultimately dig himself out of a 5-2 hole, saving an impressive five set points in the ninth game of the set before getting back on serve with an admittedly lucky dead net-cord winner on break point. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, Shapovalov won his fifth game in a row to lead two-sets to none against Simon.

It was Simon’s turn, however, to make a comeback surge in the third set. Shapovalov would leap out to an early break lead, only to be reeled back in by the Frenchman’s signature backboard style of counterpunching tennis. An untimely loss of focus in the final game of the set – punctuated by tight unforced error into the net – saw the set gifted to the home favourite who, in front of a limited Philippe Chatrier crowd, received applause from the few locals allowed in attendance.

In any other year, the stadium – especially with its new, cacophonous roof – would have surged with electric energy, as the French crowd are notoriously passionate for their national players. But in an unprecedented near-fanless tournament in an unprecedented year, Simon wouldn’t be able to ride the wave of energy that might have propelled him to a comeback win in any other year.

Instead, it was Shapovalov who reversed the momentum early in the fourth, breaking for a quick lead over a frustrated Simon. Although he’d surrender the initial break, a potent mix of delicate touch at the net and hard-hitting blasts from the baseline would see last week’s Top 10 debutant regain control of the set and, with it, the match.

It’s a hard-earned and long-overdue win at Roland Garros for Shapo, whose last (and only other) win at Paris’ Grand Slam took place back in 2018, where he beat John Millman in the first round before falling to Maximilian Marterer one round later. Tuesday’s evening-match win came on the back of 55 winners to 65 unforced errors, a -10 differential which trumped Simon’s -20 differential (just 26 winners to 46 unforced errors) by some margin.

Shapovalov’s next opponent will be Roberto Carballes Baena, a 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victor over Steve Johnson in their first-round encounter.