Photo : Martin Sidorjak
Sports can be cruel, but they also provide an opportunity for greatness.
Denis Shapovalov faces that scenario after scoring another impressive win on Wednesday at Roland-Garros, setting himself up for a third-round showdown with world No. 1 and title-favourite Carlos Alcaraz.
However, Shapovalov was the lone Canadian singles winner on Wednesday as Leylah Annie Fernandez saw her run in Paris come to an early end with a second-round loss at the hands of Clara Tauson.
The Canadian backed up his gritty round-one victory by overpowering Matteo Arnaldi in four sets to reach the third round of the French Open for the first time in his career. He has now reached at least the third round at all four majors.
Shapovalov used his big-hitting to keep Arnaldi on the defensive for most of the match. He had mixed results, committing 38 unforced errors but also the same number of winners, 14 more than his opponent who had 85 total errors, 44 forced and 41 unforced. The Canadian served very well, winning 80 percent of his first serve points and facing just one break point in the match.
Right from the start, Shapovalov took his powerful game to the Italian and was rewarded with four errors and a break in the opening game. The Canadian continued to attack Arnaldi’s serve at every opportunity and was rewarded with a second break as he raced through the opening set.
The momentum nearly carried into the second when Shapovalov had a couple of looks at a break in the opening game but could not convert. At 1-2, a backhand into the net had the Canadian facing a break point for what turned out to be the only time all day. Another error gave the Italian an advantage he managed to hang on to as he levelled the match at one set apiece.
Undeterred, Shapovalov continued to attack in the third set and was rewarded in the sixth game when his big hitting drew back-to-back errors to score a break, which was enough to take the set which he served out to love.
A key to the Canadian’s strong performance was his return of serve. At 2-2 in the fourth set, a brilliant return from Shapovalov on break point put him on offence, eventually setting up a forehand winner to seize the break.
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Given how Shapovalov was serving, the result seemed assured once he had the break. In the end, he did not have to rely on the serve as he broke again at 5-3 to close out the match and reach the last 32 in Paris for the first time.
It will be a first meeting between Shapovalov and Alcaraz in the third round of the French Open.
“I’m a huge, huge fan of his. I think he’s a great guy,” said Shapovalov of Alcaraz. “He’s super humble for achieving what he has at such a young age. You can see how much he enjoys being on the court and the situations that are coming forward to him. I really look up to him.
“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a tough battle. Obviously he’s a great player, especially on clay courts. Three out of five is not going to be easy against him, but I’m looking forward to it.”
The Canadian will be trying to reach the fourth round for the first time in Paris, something he has managed to do at each of the other majors.
Fernandez Comeback Falls Short
While Shapovalov is in the midst of a career-best run at the French Open, Leylah Annie Fernandez was unable to back up her best result from a year ago as she was bounced in round two by Denmark’s Clara Tauson in three sets.
A year after reaching the quarter-finals in Paris, the Canadian No. 2 struggled to get in a rhythm and often found herself stuck on defense against the aggressive Dane, who held off a comeback bid from Fernandez for a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win.
Tauson blasted 45 winners past Fernandez while only committing 30 unforced errors, both better than the Canadian’s 36 winners and 37 unforced errors. The Dane also converted five of her 11 break point opportunities and won 67 per cent of Fernandez’s second serve points.
It could not have been a much slower start for Fernandez, who struggled to finish points early on. Her backhand in particular was a problem as consistent errors off that wing led to an early double-break deficit at 0-4.
However, it was that very shot that helped her start to claw back into the set as a backhand winner allowed the Canadian to reclaim one of the breaks.
A nice drop shot got the set back on serve, but Fernandez was still struggling with consistency. A poorly-timed double fault followed by a drop shot into the net denied the Canadian consolidation as Tauson broke for a third time and went on to take the set.
Fernandez wasted no time in putting the opening set behind her as she broke quickly for a 2-0 lead in the second setut Tauson responded immediately and knotted up the set at 2-2.
Both women missed chances to break midway through the set, but with the spectre of a tiebreak looming in the 12th game, the Dane cracked. Four straight errors off of Tauson’s racket gave away the break and sent the match to a deciding set.
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Similar to the start of the previous set, the momentum flipped immediately as Tauson had a chance to break in the opening game and again in the third. After Fernandez saved the first three break points of the set, the Dane fired a backhand winner to take a 2-1 lead.
That was all Tauson needed as she hung on to that one break to end the Canadian’s run. Bianca Andreescu is now the lone Canadian woman left in the singles draw. Fernandez’s stay in Paris is not over as she and Taylor Townsend are the 10th seeds in the doubles competition.
Dabrowski off and running
Gabriela Dabrowski was the first Canadian in action in doubles at the 2023 French Open on Wednesday and kicked off her campaign with a win. She and partner Luisa Stefani eased past Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Tatjana Maria in straight sets.
The match lasted just under an hour as Dabrowski and Stefani, the eighth seeds in the women’s doubles draw, never faced a break point in a 6-2, 6-2 win.
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Each woman held their first service game in the match before the Canadian-Brazilian pair seized control. From 2-2 in the opening set, Dabrowski and Stefani won eight consecutive games to take the first and race out to a 4-0 lead in the second set.
From there, the result was never in doubt as they lost just two points in their last two service games to wrap up the win. Dabrowski’s best result in Paris came in 2019 when she reached the women’s doubles quarter-finals, although she won the mixed doubles title at the French Open in 2017.