The old French adage jamais deux sans trois (never two without three) – or maybe better translated in English as everything happens in threes – was put to the test on Thursday at the French Open after Canadian juniors Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov won their third-round matches and waited to see if Benjamin Sigouin would join them in the quarter-finals.

It was quite a wait as Sigouin went well into overtime in the third set against Alexei Popyrin of Australia, taking all of two hours, 29 minutes and 39 seconds to win at last – 5-7, 6-4, 13-11. He was greeted with a congratulatory hug by Auger-Aliassime as he headed back to the locker room.

The final set was a compelling see-saw affair as Sigouin, serving second from behind, hung tough. He failed to convert a break point at 7-7 when his 6-foot-4 Aussie opponent came up with a big serve. Both players are tall and lanky and hit the ball fearlessly, hard and consistently low over the net in up-tempo rallies.

Sigouin made the first break of serve in the 19th game to take a 10-9 lead after three great points – first when he chased down a lob and hoisted one back to stay in the point before finally winning it, second when he cracked a mighty forehand service return winner and third when he hit a forehand passing shot winner down-the-line.

But just when it looked like he might wrap up the marathon on a decidedly cool, damp, overcast day, Popyrin broke back to 10-10.

The Aussie held to 11-10 on four quick points and then it began to rain persistently as Sigouin served from behind again. But it was his turn to hold to love and then to finally achieve the break in the ensuing game to lead 12-11, rallying from 30-15 down and finishing off on the first advantage with a big shot that forced a backhand error.

When it came time to try to serve it out again at 12-11, Popyrin saved one match point by winning a grueling rally before Sigouin finally concluded matters with a good serve and a follow-up forehand winner.


There were occasional displays of frustration from both players, but Sigouin was probably the slightly more composed.

“I had to be mentally and physically tough today,” he said about facing the 16-year-old from Sydney. “I knew he tends to crack sometimes so I knew I had to stay tough no matter what, no matter what happened.”

Even though Popyrin didn’t realize at 6-all that the third set would be played out and not end in a tiebreak, Sigouin was well aware of it. “I was thinking about it the whole third set,” he said about no tiebreak to set a finish line. “Without the tiebreakers you don’t know how long it can go. I know me and him both have good serves. I had a feeling that if we go three, it could go the distance.”

Sigouin, who turns 17 tomorrow on Rafael Nadal’s 30th birthday, said he wasn’t too disappointed by not serving out the match at 10-9. “It was frustrating but I knew if I broke him once I could break him again. That was the only thing in my mind. I just really needed to work on my serve because that’s what let me down in the third.”


With temperatures hovering around 15 degrees and the air full of about as much moisture without it actually raining, Sigouin’s parents and sister (above) huddled against the weather.

Asked about how they felt about his long, drawn-out but successful struggle, he said, “they were really happy that I stayed in the match, fought as hard as I could and competed well.”

As for himself, he said was proud about, “just staying in and competing. I could have easily checked out but I didn’t. I’m happy about that.”

In what could be a blessing in disguise in terms of rest in the long run, Sigouin and partner Louis Wessels of Germany were beaten 6-1, 6-3 in the second round of doubles by third seeds Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Casper Ruud of Norway.

In Friday’s singles quarter-finals, Sigouin will play Geoffrey Blancaneaux. On Thursday, the 17-year-old Frenchman defeated compatriot Corentin Moutet, a wild card, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.

“I played him a month ago (in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France) and it was a bad match for me,” Sigouin said about Blancaneaux. “I played terrible. I just saw the match he played now. It was a really hostile environment. His father brought two full buses of people and they were going crazy. I heard them shouting during my doubles match. That’s who I’m playing tomorrow so I’ve got to expect it.”


There will likely not be the same kind of denouement at the net when Friday’s match ends as there was on Thursday after Sigouin hit the final forehand winner against Popyrin. They exchanged a heartfelt embrace. “We’re friends and we’re good sports,” Sigouin explained.

But when asked if he would have done the same if he had been the loser, he smiled and said, “I’d like to think so, but you never know. It was good of him.”


Denis Shapovalov, the highest rated of the Canadian threesome at seed No. 5, got stronger on Thursday as his match with No. 9 seed Miomir Kecmanovic went on. He wound up with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 win over the Serb.

“It was a tough match obviously,” Shapovalov said. “Miomir is a very good player so I’m just very happy I could pull it out today. I started out well and got up a break early and then he kind of gutted it out. It was a tight first set and I made a couple of unforced errors to give him the first set. After that I kind of played more safer, tried to make less unforced errors and as a result I got to pull it out.”

Kecmanovic looked a little discouraged in the third set as Shapovalov began to take over the match. “I broke him early on,” Shapovalov said. “That was my goal – he goes away sometimes. I was actually hoping for that.”


After the match, the 17-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., posed for a picture with (left to right) his mother Tessa, his coach Adriano Fuorivia and sponsor Andrzej Kepinski.

Later Thursday, he and Auger-Aliassime were beaten 6-4, 7-6(2) in doubles by Yunseong Chung of Korea and Orlando Luz of Brazil. That ends a streak of six wins in Grand Slam play dating back to their victory at the US Open last September.

In girls doubles, Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Que., and partner Claire Liu of the U.S. were beaten 6-3, 7-6(4) in the second round by the Japanese pairing of Ayumi Miyamoto and Chihiro Muramatsu. 

In the singles quarter-finals on Friday, Shapovalov will play top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Shapovalov, who was born in Tel Aviv, Israel to Russian émigré parents, speaks three languages. “English, a little bit of French and Russian,” he said.


The success of the three young Canadians comes with media responsibilities and Shapovalov can be seen above talking to a tournament official right after his match to arrange his media conference.

Asked if it was a bit of a pain, he replied, “No, I like it. I’m starting to feel like a pro player after all these (interviews). I like to express how the match went and how things are going. So far I’ve had enough time between matches to do the interviews and then focus on my matches. So it’s been okay so far.”

Probably the most outgoing of the threesome, Shapovalov said about any nicknames the group might have; “I call Félix ‘Filou’ and Ben ‘Benjy.’”

As for what his nickname was, Shapovalov just laughed and said, “I like to be called ‘Big D’… no I’m joking.”


Auger-Aliassime was the first Canadian to reach the quarter-finals as he defeated eighth-seeded Djurabek Karimov of Uzbekistan 7-6(2), 6-1 on 263-seat Court 5.

It was a resilient performance by the 15-year-old Montrealer who was broken in the second game and trailed 3-1 before running off three games in a row. At 5-5, Auger-Aliassime got out of a tricky love-40 spot on his serve to hold.

In the tiebreak that eventually ensued, he basically outhit the almost 18-year-old (June 4) Karimov who looked irritable and was whining to his courtside support group. The second set was less complicated for Auger-Aliassime as he wrapped it up in 25 minutes.

“I think I was more solid from the back of the court and I moved better and especially I served better,” Auger-Aliassime said about his domination of the first-set tiebreak. “I had a clear idea of what I was doing and I had good targets.”

It was another cool, humid and dreary day at Roland Garros, but Auger-Aliassime didn’t have too many problems with the red clay. “It wasn’t that slow,” he said, “especially with the balls that are pretty fast and guys who hit close to the lines. The conditions are all right, maybe the court was a little greasy – it was a bit slippery. But it was okay and I just adjusted.”

Next for Auger-Alassime will be Genaro Alberto Olivieri of Argentina who upset second seed Mate Valkusz of Hungary 6-4, 6-1 on Thursday.  

“I’ve seen him at tournaments but I haven’t seen him play much,” Auger-Aliassime said about the 17-year-old Olivieri who is only 5-foot-7.

About Valkusz losing, Auger-Aliassime’s reaction was, “in the main draw you expect to play the second seed but anything can happen and you have to be prepared for anything.”

On the fitness front, he assured, “physically I feel fine – no problems.”


The fact that he and Shapovalov were beaten in doubles may not be the worst thing for their chances in singles. “It’s okay,” was Auger-Aliassime’s initial response, before adding, “it’s disappointing for sure but now we continue in singles, and concentrate on singles.”

The man who has overseen much of the development of Auger-Aliassime and Sigouin, and to a smaller extent of Shapovalov, is Tennis Canada vice-president for high performance development Louis Borfiga. When the Montreal-based Borfiga was at the French Tennis Federation he was intimately involved in the early stages of the careers of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon.

He was a happy man on Thursday watching his promising Canadian players in the French Open junior event.

“I think it’s quite a feat to have three players in the final eight,” said Borfiga, 61. “It shows that the level of our juniors is very, very high.”

He then offered his own brief take on each of the three players.

Auger-Aliassime: “What I like about Félix is that his ball striking is truly exceptional and on top of that he’s a boy who has a good head on his shoulders and is also a nice kid. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and I think he has the attitude to become a very, very good player.”

Shapovalov: “I’ve been impressed by his progress this year. He’s playing at a very high level. I also like his love of the game, his enthusiasm. He and Félix are two good kids.”

Sigouin: “He’s a nice surprise. I think that maybe he’ll be a strong player a little later than the other two. But already he won Charleroi (the junior tournament in Belgium leading into Roland Garros) last week which I think is a very impressive result.

“He’s there too. We really have three juniors that we can hope will be in the Top 50 in the world.”

Hardest job at Roland Garros?


When this woman was asked if she had a tough job selling ice cream on a day when the high temperature was a chilly 17 degrees – but felt more like 10 – her answer was “oui.” Over an hour later in the early afternoon she was asked how many bars she had sold. She smiled and replied, “just five.”

Paris postcard


This group of Paris street cleaners were talking about a pressing problem on their daily rounds – or were they discussing where to travel to next on vacation with their job’s generous holiday benefits?