June 24, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Argentine dirtballers the route to RG for Gabriel Diallo

ROLAND GARROS – Roland Garros remains the most challenging Grand Slam tournament to qualify for, because so many lower-ranked players who excel on the clay come out of the woodwork every year.

So for 22-year-old Montrealer Gabriel Diallo, even his first round against a 5-9 Argentine ranked No. 188 was a potential trap.

But Diallo prevailed, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1 against 25-year-old Genaro Alberto Olivieri in the first round on Monday.

It was his first career victory on the famed Roland Garros red clay, in his second visit.

There’s a whole universe between (officially) 5-foot-9 and legit 6-foot-8.

On Wednesday, he faces another Argentine dirtballer – 34-year-old Marco Trungelliti.

A year ago, Diallo’s only appearance on the red clay came here – and why not, if you can get in by your ranking?

He lost to Timofey Skatov of Kazakhstan in the first round. He’s still looking for his maiden Grand Slam main draw; he lost a tough one in the final round of Australian Open qualifying in January to David Goffin. That’s as close as he’s come – so far.

“So this year, it’s my first real phase, where I’m playing a full clay-court season. And it’s going quite well,” Diallo said after the win. “At the beginning, of course there was an adjustment period, but I think the clay can work well with my game, and I’m still in an apprenticeship period. So the more matches I can play, the better.”

Just to give a sense of the contrast between the two, Olivieri has played just three matches OFF clay in the last 12 months: a first-round loss in Wimbledon qualifying, a first-round loss at a U.S. Challenger just before the US Open, and a first-round loss to Juncheng Shang in the first round of qualifying at Flushing Meadows.

A year ago, ranked No. 231, he qualified for Roland Garros and made it to the third round of the main draw before Holger Rune defeated him. Those victories were the first (and only, so far) victories at the ATP Tour level of his career.

He has played 124 career matches on clay (all levels combined) and … 20 on other surfaces.

Diallo began his clay season at the ATP event in Houston, went to the Har-Tru on the Challenger cicuit, then to Ostrava, Cagliari and Mauthausen on the European clay. It wasn’t a great run, but he did manage some wins. And he also lost to some excellent clay-courters including Hugo Dellien and Juan Manuel Cerundolo.

Last week, Diallo retired in the third set of his opener with an oblique issue. The extra time must have helped; it looked okay on Monday – especially the way he was serving.

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Bringing the hard-court game to the clay

What does Diallo have to do to perform well on the clay?

“I have to try to play a hard-court match. Of course, the rallies will be longer, but I need to not lose my playing identity – that of a big hitter – and then try to take the advantage in the point as soon as I can,” Diallo said. “That’s what I was able to do (Monday).”

A clay-court foot soldier

On Wednesday, against Trungelliti, he’ll have a similar challenge as he did against Olivieri.

But against an even more experienced campaigner, who has had some success in Paris.

Trungelliti went through qualifying and made the second round of the main draw at Roland Garros three consecutive years: 2016 through 2018. But lately, it’s been more of. struggle; his first-round win over No. 9 seed Juan Pablo Varillas was his first in Grand Slam qualifying since the 2023 Australian Open.

It was a solid win; the Peruvian Varillas was ranked a career high No. 60 just before Wimbledon last year. But he has struggled, as many South American clay-courters have, in that transition to the ATP level and is 1-8 on the season. He’s currently ranked No. 113.

As for Trungelliti, he will forever be remembered in Pris for his lucky loser road trip of 2018, when he got into the main draw after more than a half-dozen players ahead of him had already left Paris.

He got into a car from Andorra for an 11-hour ride – with his abuela (grandmother) along for the side, and beat Bernard Tomic in the first round.

Trungelliti also had to deal with being an outcast at home in Argentina, within the tennis community, when he blew the whistle on some notorious match fixers.

So he’s a player with a story, one to root for. Although if you’re a fan of Canadian tennis, perhaps not Wednesday.

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