Photo : Tyler Anderson
by Max Gao
Gabriel Diallo has finally made it to the major leagues.
In his maiden main-draw appearance at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers, the Canadian wild card brought the house down on the Grandstand Court in Toronto with a stunning 7-6(4), 7-5 victory over the red-hot Daniel Evans.
The Montreal native, who had entered Tuesday’s first-round clash with an 0-3 record in main-draw matches on the ATP Tour, will be on Court 1 on Wednesday to face Australian Alex de Minaur for a place in the third round.
Having defeated the Brit in straight sets at an ATP Challenger event in Surbiton on grass a couple of months ago, Diallo knew he needed to use his big serve and piercing groundstrokes to keep the pressure on Evans, who had won the second tour-level title of his career over the weekend at the Citi Open in Washington.
The 21-year-old Canadian went toe-to-toe with the newly minted World No. 21, saving a crucial break point in the fifth game and continuing to force Evans to play catch-up on serve. In the end, Diallo’s persistence was rewarded, as he took advantage of a few loose unforced errors from Evans in the tiebreak to move within one set of victory.
The second set proved to be a much more dramatic affair, with Diallo finding himself up a break three times and Evans fighting each time to get back on level terms. After serving to stay in the match at 3-5, Evans turned toward some fans and roared, sending a clear message that he wasn’t ready to give up. Diallo’s nerves got the best of him in the following game, when he hit a double fault to give back the break. But, to his credit, the young Canadian dug deep, forcing a couple of untimely forehand errors from Evans to break once more before serving out the match.
“I was angry because I wasn’t able to keep my lead. I started missing a lot of first serves, so it was starting to get on my nerves a little bit, but I was able to get a couple breaks that brought me back in the lead,” Diallo told reporters after the match. “Then, at the end, I was proud of myself, and the nerves just took over. For maybe the next 20, 25 seconds after the match point, you don’t really know what’s going on. You have no idea. It’s all instinct. It’s just like everything is happening, and your reaction is your reaction. So I was extremely happy.”
Disappointment for Birthday Boy
Meanwhile, in the first Centre Court match of the night session, qualifier Max Purcell produced a serving masterclass to knock out No. 10 seed — and birthday boy — Félix Auger-Aliassime, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 35 minutes. The Australian has now defeated three Canadians in as many matches, having powered past Peter Polansky and Brayden Schnur over the weekend in qualifying.
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Purcell, who didn’t face a single break point in the first-round clash, was clinical in the execution of his game plan; he hit eight aces, won 90 per cent (28/31) of his first-serve points, and broke once in each set to secure his second win in three meetings with Auger-Aliassime, whom he also beat at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The World No. 78 effectively used his variety, especially his backhand slice, to confound Auger-Aliassime in the baseline battles, never really allowing him to find his rhythm.
“Overall, I think I wasn’t serving really well, especially on the first serve, which is a big strength for me,” Auger-Aliassime said in his post-match press conference. “I feel like from the baseline, of course, you can look at a couple points here and there, but I can’t redo the whole match, so I think in general I need to serve better. I need to find a way when guys are serving like this to return better.”
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Auger-Aliassime, who reached the quarter-finals in Montreal last year, has struggled of late to recapture the form that saw him win four ATP titles, including three in a row last fall, and reach a career-high ranking of No. 6 in the world in 2022. The Canadian has now lost all three tour-level matches that he’s played on his birthday and will be looking to end a five-match losing streak when he takes to the court in Cincinnati next week.
“I’m training well. Of course, I’m feeling good physically. So I try to think it’s just a matter of time,” Auger-Aliassime said of how he has navigated the latest downturn in his career. “It’s tough with tennis. You get one chance from the first match. It’s not like you have set matches the whole year and you can go out and just try to play. You have to win the first match. But I’m confident that once I get a first win, then I can go further in the draw. … It hasn’t happened for a while, so I’ll stay positive and try to keep working well.”
Purcell will now face former World No. 1 and three-time champion Andy Murray on Wednesday for a spot in the round of 16.