At six-foot-eight with a long wingspan to match, Canadian tennis player Gabriel Diallo can be a handful for his opponents.
The 21-year-old has made big strides as he continues his first full season as a pro. Diallo will look to take another step next week in the Wimbledon qualifiers.
“Just from the momentum of his long arms, when he connects it’s like a big heavyweight,” said coach Martin Laurendeau. “When the timing is good, his ball speed is really difficult to handle.”
Diallo, from Montreal, decided to forego his final year at the University of Kentucky and focus on lower-level Challenger events this year as he builds his pro game.
He has chalked up some impressive wins along the way.
In his first tournament on grass this month, Diallo upset world No. 25 Daniel Evans of Britain at the Lexus Surbiton Trophy. The Montreal resident is 16-10 on the Challenger tour this season and his ATP Tour ranking is up to a career-high No. 139.
He’ll be a player to watch when qualification play at the Grand Slam event begins Monday.
“It’s going to be really about managing emotions and managing matches really well,” Diallo said Friday from London.
Diallo was ranked No. 943 in the world last June. He finished the 2022 Challenger season at 17-7 and jumped to No. 227 at the start of the year.
“As a coach and as someone from the inside, I know that a lot of people are impressed by that leap in such a small amount of time,” Laurendeau said.
Diallo made his National Bank Open debut last year in Montreal and upset then-world No. 62 James Duckworth of Australia in the qualifying draw.
He won the Granby Challenger later that summer and also made his first Davis Cup appearance. Diallo’s ranking jumped 75 positions in mid-October to No. 250.
“You want to try to climb as much as you can but quickly you realize that it’s not the thing that really matters,” he told The Canadian Press. “What really matters is how you can develop as a player and how you can develop as a person.
“If you take care of that, I feel like your ranking is going to take care of itself.”
The singles qualification draw is expected to be released Sunday. Vasek Pospisil, a native of Vernon, B.C., is also on the entry list.
Toronto’s Katherine Sebov, Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que. are on the women’s qualification entry list.
Players must win three qualifying matches to reach the main draw starting July 3.
Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., are on the main draw list although all three have battled injuries this season.
The women’s list includes Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., and Rebecca Marino of Vancouver.
Laurendeau said Diallo has a powerful all-around game and covers ground well.
“He’s surprisingly steady for a guy of his size,” he said from London. “He moves much better than most athletes at six foot eight.”
With a big serve, forehand and a solid backhand, Diallo tries to stay aggressive on court and use his size and power to his advantage.
“He’s got (fewer) holes as the months go by and he’s got more and more weaponry,” Laurendeau said.
At Kentucky, Diallo was named to the All-SEC first team and led the Wildcats to the SEC conference title. He was ranked eighth in the NCAA with a 38-8 record.
“I see him going quite deep with the (ATP) rankings but that’s a byproduct of his game and his experience,” Laurendeau said. “He’s still 18 months, 24 months out to really start to get a feel for being a full-fledged pro. There’s a lot to learn in the first couple years on tour.
“He has just been exposed to that for six months. Hopefully that next window of 18 months is going to help him continue to grow his game.”