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Canadians Draxl, Martin drop opening matches at NBO Toronto qualifying

Liam Draxl Liam Draxl - National Bank Open on Twitter

TORONTO — There were several take-aways for Canada's Justin Boulais on Saturday even if the scoreline in his first career ATP Tour match was unflattering.

The 21-year-old from Oakville, Ont., dropped a 6-0, 6-3 decision to Corentin Moutet of France in first-round qualification play at the National Bank Open.

"You have to surrender the outcome," said former WTA Tour player Patricia Hy-Boulais, his mother and mental coach. "You have to surrender imperfection and just embrace. When you come out here, don't play perfect tennis, you go point by point and manage your stress.

"It's all about handling problems. It's problem-solving out there."

Boulais, a first-team All Big Ten player at Ohio State University, has been playing lower-tier events of late as he continues the transition from college to the pro game.

The Masters 1000 event — an environment that Boulais called a "bit overwhelming" — was a noticeable change from his previous tournaments.

"I don't feel like the tennis itself is super different," he said. "But I do feel like the mentality and the preparation of the ATP players is a whole other level."

The explosiveness that often generated routine putaways in college matches was stifled by the 80th-ranked Frenchman on the grandstand court at Sobeys Stadium.

Moutet worked in lighter, spin-heavy serves before uncorking powerful ground strokes to keep the Canadian on his heels. He used deft touch up front and his slices, lobs and dink shots prevented Boulais from finding his rhythm.

"There was a lot of learning lessons in that (match)," said Hy-Boulais, a former top-30 tour player. "You don't always have to hit hard. You can be smart on the court. The placement and the depth of the shots from Moutet was unbelievable.

"The first hit after the return and the first hit after the serve, (he had Justin) on the move."

The 490th-ranked Boulais, who has one semester left at OSU, is aiming to crack the top 200 and earn a spot in the Australian Open qualifiers in January. Next up is a trip to Winnipeg for a Challenger event later this month.

A U18 national men's singles champion in 2018, Boulais seemed tight in the opening set on a warm, sunny and breezy afternoon. He loosened up in the second set but unforced errors proved costly.

"I want to get used to playing on these courts and in these environments," Boulais said. "I feel like this (was) a match that helps me in the future for that.

"Hopefully it will mean that I'm a little bit more prepared and feel more centred when I do play those bigger matches."

Moutet completed the win in 73 minutes. Hy-Boulais felt her son did "quite well" overall against the eight-year pro.

"He's a creative player and he wants to go by instincts," she said. "So we're constantly working on the basics and the foundation. That's what it takes to be out here.

"You've got to do the same thing under pressure and you want to deliver."

Earlier, Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont., dropped a 7-6 (6), 6-4 decision to Argentina's Diego Schwartzman. Aleksandar Vukic of Australia posted a 6-3, 6-4 win over Dan Martin of Laval, Que.

Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., needed almost three hours to defeat American Maxime Cressy 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5.

Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., was defeated 6-2, 6-4 in a late match by Australia's Max Purcell.

The 28-man qualification draw will determine the eight qualifiers for the main draw starting Monday.

Top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal are two of the headliners at the US$7.62-million tournament, which continues through Aug. 13.

Alcaraz, who's 47-4 this season, is coming off a five-set victory over Novak Djokovic in last month's Wimbledon final.

"I have the trophy in my living room," Alcaraz said. "Every time that I have lunch or have dinner with my family, I see the trophy. It's something that I won't forget."

At No. 10, Auger-Aliassime is the only seeded Canadian in the field. Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., withdrew earlier this week due to a knee injury.

Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., Montreal's Gabriel Diallo and Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., have wild-card entries.

Diallo and Galarneau will also team up in doubles while Pospisil will partner with Nicolas Mahut of France. The other Canadian entry is the duo of Vancouver's Benjamin Sigouin and Toronto's Kelsey Stevenson.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2023.

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