November 28, 2021

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ROLAND GARROS – Two Canadians took the court on Monday, as the first Grand Slam qualifying event since the Australian Open in January got under way.

And Steven Diez and Brayden Schnur, both unseeded, upset seeded opponents to advance to the second round.

For Diez, currently at No. 179 in the rankings, the win over 26-year-old Ilya Ivashka of Belarus (No. 136 and seeded No. 26) was a long one.

It wasn’t looking too good in the second set for the Canadian after he rolled through the first set. But in the end he pulled off a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory to move on.

It was … loud (the sound doesn’t come close to doing justice to the live version).

Schnur through easily vs. No. 30 seed Varillas

For Brayden Schnur, not as known for his clay-court prowess as Diez, the first round was surprisingly routine.

Schnur, 25 and down 100 spots from his career best of No. 92 a year ago, was making his Roland Garros debut.

He didn’t even try to play the qualifying last year, even though he would have been one of the top seeds. Instead, he went on a tour of Challengers in Asia to work on building up his ranking even more.

And the week of the qualies in Paris, he was playing a hard-court Challenger in Jerusalem in which he reached the semifinals.

He then went straight to the grass.

Beating up on a dirtballer

But on Monday, facing off with a 24-year-old from Peru who, at No. 142, is close to a career high, he had to think he was up against a pretty accomplished dirtballer.

Varillas went on a tear on the clay Challenger circuit in South America last fall. He won back-to-back tournaments and then reached two other semifinals. But he, too, was making his Roland Garros debut.

Schnur couldn’t miss in the first set. And he kept up the level pretty well in the second as he routinely dismissed Varillas, the No. 30 seed, 6-1, 6-4.

This is the fourth try in Paris for Diez, now 29. He lost in the first round twice, all the way back in 2013 and 2014.

The last time he tried was three years ago. After beating Lukas Lacko in the first round, he lost to Pedro Sousa of Portugal.

The last two springs, Diez was in France; he even played the Lyon ATP Tour event before Roland Garros. But his ranking wasn’t high enough to even get him into the qualies. Injuries meant he had to rebuild what he’d done – and to a large extent, he’s done just that.

Next up for the Canucks

Diez next faces Christopher Eubanks, a tall American with a big serve but relatively modest ability to move on the clay.

Eubanks defeated 2016 junior French Open Geoffrey Blanceaneaux 6-2, 7-5 in the first round.

(Remember Blancaneaux? He defeated Denis Shapovalov in the semis and Félix Auger-Aliassime in the finals that year. But at No. 270, close to his career high so far, he needed a wild card to get into the qualifying. It’s tough out there).

Diez
Young American Sebastian Korda is up next for Brayden Schnur in the Roland Garros qualifying. (Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

For Schnur, the next round is a tough one in the talented American Sebastian Korda.

Korda, the 2018 Australian Open junior champ, defeated compatriot Mitch Krueger 6-1, 6-4 in the first round.

Tough draw for Polansky

Also on Tuesday, veteran Peter Polansky has the toughest draw of the three Canadians in the qualies.

He gets No. 13 seed Leonardo Mayer of Argentina. a 33-year-old (where did the time go?). Mayer, currently ranked No. 123, reached his career high of No. 21 shortly after the French Open five years ago.

Then ranked No. 68, the Argentine made the fourth round of the main draw a year ago. He upset Rome finalist Diego Schwartzman in the second round, and lost to Roger Federer.

Polansky, whose ranking is down to No. 204, has never been straight into Roland Garros in 10 previous tries. But he has made the main draw three times (the most recent, in 2018, came as a lucky loser).

He lost to Philipp Petzschner in five sets in his debut in 2009, to Tomas Berdych in the first round in 2014, and to Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the first round in 2018.