Roland-Garros: Gabriel Diallo did not come to Paris as a tourist

Gabriel Diallo did not come to Paris as a tourist. In fact, the Quebecer came very close to signing two firsts in his young career, Sunday at Roland-Garros: winning a first match in the main draw of a major tournament and doing so by overcoming a deficit of two sets to zero.

But that didn’t happen. It was finally the returning Kei Nishikori who triumphed after 4 hours 22 minutes, winning 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 1-6 and 7-5. Grand master of victories in five sets (Sunday’s was the 28e of his career), the Japanese ignored his long months of absence on the circuit and showed the full extent of his experience.

Diallo, 22 years old and a professional for a year and a half, does not, however, have to be ashamed of his performance. Far from there. A powerful server, the 6’7″ Montrealer also demonstrated against the former fourth in the world that he could be a skilled returner.

The first two rounds could have – and even should – have gone in favor of the 166e player on the ATP, who had obtained his ticket to the big picture by winning his three qualifying matches last week.

Missed opportunities

Each time, Diallo obtained one or even two set points. And each time, Nishikori closed the door as those who have long been among the highest ranked players on the planet know how to do.

Except that Nishikori, 34, has hardly played on the big circuit for three years. His last appearance at a major dates back to the 2021 United States Open, the tournament where he reached the final seven years earlier.

Injured in particular in a hip, the Japanese skipped the 2022 campaign. This year, he only took part in one match before appearing in Paris.

A good sense of smell, then…

Perhaps he was going to run out of gas in his tank, especially after two hard-fought rounds. And Diallo smelled that. Helped by an increasingly effective first ball, the Quebecer flew through the next two sets.


Photo AFP

The giant even got the break early in the fifth, a few minutes after his rival had used the services of the sports therapist for back treatments.

Except that, lo and behold: as the sun set over Paris, Nishikori’s game woke up. And as in the first two rounds, the 350e Mondial took advantage of Diallo’s generosity at the end of the set to finally win after a fierce fight.

A bitter end to the match, certainly, for the Quebecer who had every reason to believe it.

But if Diallo did not sign two great firsts, Sunday at Roland-Garros, he will at least be able to boast of having set foot there, in this great painting, and of having left a beautiful business card there. .

▶ Gabriel Diallo was the only Canadian competing in Paris on this first day. Félix Auger-Aliassime (5 a.m.), Leylah Fernandez (around 8:15 a.m.) and Bianca Andreescu (around 9 a.m.) will make their debut on Monday. It will be Denis Shapovalov’s turn on Tuesday.

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