Denis Shapovalov hits a backhand at the net.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Denis Shapovalov showed little sign of rust in his return to the ATP Tour after a five-week absence, picking up a win in his first match on clay of 2022 in straight sets over Ugo Humbert at the Mutua Madrid Open.

In a battle of lanky lefties, Shapovalov was a little more solid than his French opponent and came up big when he needed to most, convert his chances to claim a 7-6(1), 6-3 victory.

The win is only Shapovalov’s second in Madrid since he reached the semi-finals in his 2018 debut at the event.

It was a very strong serving performance by the Canadian, who struck five aces and won 70 percent of his second serve points. He added 21 winners, although he also committed 28 unforced errors. Shapovalov also won every single break point in the match, converting his only opportunity on Humbert’s serve while saving all nine he faced.

The first set was rather uneventful, with both players cruising on serve. Neither faced a break point or was even pushed to deuce, so a tiebreak was needed to decide it.

On the first point of the tiebreak, Shapovalov was unhappy with a Humbert backhand that was called in, confirmed by the umpire getting out of his chair to have a look, despite the Canadians protests.

As a response, Shapovalov used his frustration as fuel as he won the next seven straight points, including a clean return winner to take a double-minibreak lead at 4-1, to take the opening set.

After no break points in the opening set, both players started to face pressure on serve at the start of the second. Shapovalov faced the first break point of the match in the opening game, saving it with an impressive overhead winner from the baseline, and then responded by notching the first break of the match in the very next game to go up 2-0.

Humbert had a chance to get the break back in the fifth game when he went ahead love-40, but the Canadian was up to the task, winning five straight points, including two unreturnable serves on the first two break points, to maintain his break lead. He also survived a 10-minute service game to move within one of victory at 5-2.

Serving for the match, he again had to dig deep, saving four break points, two with forehand winners, before converting his second match point with another unreturned serve.

Shapovalov has a gauntlet of former Grand Slam winners ahead of him in Madrid. He will meet Andy Murray in the second round on Tuesday, with a potential round three clash with Novak Djokovic on the horizon. The Canadian won his lone previous meeting with Murray last year on grass at Wimbledon in straight sets.

No All-Canadian Doubles Clash

Two Canadian women were on a collision course in the Madrid doubles, but it was not to be.

Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Giuliana Olmos, the second seeds, got their campaign off to a winning start with a three-set win over Xinyun Han and Alexandra Panova.

The Canadian-Mexican pair did not have things entirely their own way, as they were forced to rally from a set down and then survive a tight match tiebreak before advancing with a 6-7, 6-4, 10-8 victory.

Leylah Annie Fernandez saw her time in Madrid come to an end after she and partner Katerina Siniakova were beaten in the second round in straight sets by Tereza Mihalikova and Ulrikke Eikeri. Had Fernandez won, she would have met Dabrowski in the third round.

The Montrealer also lost in the second round of singles on Sunday.

Dabrowski will play her third-round doubles match against Mihalikova and Eikeri on Tuesday.