In the wide world of tennis, there’s nothing quite like an evening match at Roland Garros with long shadows on the red clay and fans enraptured by a thriller coda match in the gloaming to wrap up their day.

All those elements were in play as Gabriel Diallo played Timofev Skatov on Court No. 4 until 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

The unfortunate part for the 21-year-old Diallo was that he came out on the short end of a 6-4, 7-6(6) outcome after having three set points to force a third set against the 22-year-old Kazakh.

Diallo rallied from 4-2 down in the first set to level at 4-all by winning a breathtaking, high-intensity 30-plus stroke rally. But he then lost his serve in the following game on a double fault before Skatov served out to love in the final game.

In the second set, Diallo trailed 4-1 – two breaks – but boldly got back in and held a set point with Skatov serving at 5-6 only to miss a service return.

At 6-foot-7 ½, Diallo is a striking figure on the court, serving big (a case of nerves seemed part of the reason for just four aces on Tuesday) and hitting a super-flat forehand that smokes through the court. And for a man his size, his movement is more than adequate.

Skatov received three visits from the trainer late in the second set for, first, a right arm issue, and then a right calf problem. But they didn’t seem to affect him in the decisive tiebreak when he took a 3-0 lead. Diallo came storming back, helped by a crowd solidly in his camp, to get to 6-4, two more sets points. But he missed a backhand wide and then a forehand long to even the score at 6-all. Two points later his service return found the net and Skatov had the victory and an opponent across the net who was bitterly disappointed.

“It was his first match on red clay (and only his second in Grand Slam qualifying),” said coach Martin Laurendeau about Diallo. “We only had five or six days of practice so I think he can play well on clay. He’s able to slide, he has the right patterns of play, the big serve and the heavy ground strokes. In a few years he’ll be much more comfortable on red clay.

“He played in Sarasota (Florida) a month and a half ago on (Har-Tru) clay and made the quarter-finals. Today, with nerves and the moment – all his childhood he dreamed of playing Grand Slams – and he almost made it three sets.”

As for Diallo’s immediate plans, he will play three $125,000 Challenger events in Britain leading into the Wimbledon qualifying. “He’s never played on grass, he has never even walked on a grass court,” said Laurendeau, a former top-100 player and long-time captain of Canada’s Davis Cup team.

“Gabriel’s an incredible story. Twelve months ago he was No. 950 in the world and now he’s 146. So he’s moved up 800 spots in 12 months while being a university student (University of Kentucky). There aren’t many players in ATP history who have improved 800 spots in a year. It’s a select group and he has done it while a student for much of that time. He’s going to play as many tournaments as he can now to get experience.”

A charismatic, crowd-pleasing athlete, Laurendeau added about his player, “he’s got a great game – maybe here on the clay you don’t see it as much because he has less chance to play his explosive tennis. When he plays his really aggressive tennis, his serve, his heavy, heavy ground strokes – forehands like (Gael) Monfils – it’s extremely impressive. To be in the Top 100 in one year is phenomenal. And I think he can go much, much higher.”

Carol Zhao got a damp, chilly Tuesday underway for the Canadians with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 victory over Katarzyna Kawa on Court No. 11.

The 30-year-old Pole was a point from a 4-1 lead in the opening set before Zhao turned the tide and closed it out with controlled, consistent play.

In the second set, Kawa, who had the bigger shots but was streaky, had what the French call un passage à vide (an empty passage) and looked to be on her way out trailing 6-4, 4-2. But Zhao had a dip in form and a re-energized Kawa rallied to win the second set.

Zhao then left the court briefly and returned in a lighter-coloured top, which it turned out she had been wearing under her dark blue top for the first two sets. She later admitted that at first – in the chilly 15-degree temperatures – she wondered if she had made the right decision to change.

But she won the opening two games of the third set and was able to ride that advantage to a fairly uneventful 6-1 result to end the two-hour and six-minute match. Serve was not a factor with more than half the 29 games (15) ending in breaks. The winners to unforced errors for the players were 18/28 for Zhao and 39/47 for the No. 279-ranked Kawa.

“I was very pleased with how the third set went,” Zhao said. “I’ve been playing a couple of matches recently when I’ve lost leads and let that affect me a little bit. So after the second set, I was able to regroup and come out on top.”

Zhao said that changing her top was basically for “a mental reset.”

About the conditions on a gloomy late morning and early afternoon, Zhao said, “the balls were really heavy when it started drizzling. They’re hard here to start with, so there’s not too much feel – pretty unforgiving. So you have to be in the right position. By the third set, I was feeling the ball a lot better.”

In Wednesday’s second round, the 27-year-old Zhao, who is still looking to qualify for a Grand Slam main draw for the first time, will play another of the super-young players emerging on the women’s tour – 17-year-old Sara Bejlek. The Czech, ranked No. 180, has a 13-8 record at all levels in 2023 and qualified for the Australian Open in January. The Zhao – Bejlek encounter is scheduled second (after a 10 a.m. start – 4 a.m. ET) on Court No. 11. That’s the same court Zhao played on Tuesday.

By mid-afternoon, the weather has changed and it looked like the sunnier, milder conditions were going to be kind to Katherine Sebov when she took a 4-0 lead in the opening set against 17-year-old Croatian Petra Marcinko.

The dogged competitor that Sebov is used her experience and savvy to outplay a Marcinko who was error-prone and unable to find her range.

Australian junior champion last year, Marcinko seemed to be showing what a raw talent but unfinished product she is until the second set began. The precocious, strong Croat hits a very heavy ball with a lot of topspin. Gradually more and more of those shots started to land good. She ran through the second set 6-0 in 37 minutes as Sebov had increasing difficulty dealing with Marcinko’s body-blow ground strokes. It was uncanny just how deep she was able to hit with consistency.

After Sebov took a five-minute bathroom break at the end of the set, the No. 257-ranked Marcinko won the opening game to stretch her winning run to seven games. But Sebov held serve to 1-1 and then had love-30 on the Croat’s serve. It appeared she might be gaining momentum for a final push but Marcinko, still hitting out and landing in, won four points on the trot to make it 2-1. Sebov had a point to level at 3-all two games later. But once that didn’t happen Marcinko reassumed control and the one-hour and 52-minute match was soon over.

After qualifying at the Australian Open and seeing her ranking rise from No. 221 at the end of 2022 to its current No. 141, it had to feel like an opportunity missed for Sebov. But the outcome was mostly on her opponent’s racquet and she didn’t play badly – and she certainly never gave up the fight against an in-form opponent.

There was some confusion about the spelling of Marcinko’s name. On the tournament website – in both the draw and on the order of play – it was spelled Marcinco. Following the match, a Croat member of her team – on the left in the post-match picture above – was emphatic that the proper spelling is Marcinko. 

This is a more up-to-date picture of spectators lending their faces to cut-outs of famous players than the one that was included in Monday’s blog – then featuring Caroline Garcia and Yannick Noah. In this case, it’s an American couple substituting their faces for last year’s champions – Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek.

There’s something magical about the Roland Garros terre battue with its rich ochre hue. No surprise that there’s a constant flow of spectators wanting to have their pictures taken against the rich background as is shown above.