Vasek Pospisil Back To His Best

Vasek Pospisil celebrates winning a point at the US Open

In this golden era for Canadian tennis, it is altogether too easy to overlook Vasek Pospisil. Compared with Bianca Andreescu, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who have achieved so much already and of whom so much is expected, and his contemporary Milos Raonic, Pospisil’s star seems relatively dim. His legacy seems on track to be defined principally by his activities off the court, most notably his role in establishing the Professional Tennis Players’ Association.

But that would be an injustice. Because Pospisil is a player of rare talent. He is, after all, a Wimbledon champion in doubles. Indeed, his partnership with Jack Sock set to take men’s doubles by storm, before both were diverted back to singles by the vastly greater rewards on offer in that discipline, and it should be noted that he was by no means the lesser in that partnership. Sock may have boasted a fearsome forehand, but Pospisil’s touch and anticipation in the forecourt was equally important.

Pospisil has also enjoyed his fair share of success in singles. His run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2015 was a joy to watch, as he played attacking grass-court tennis for the modern era, combining a powerful forehand and athletic movement around the court with deft volleys and a wicked sliced backhand. At that point, Pospisil had established himself as a solid member of top 50 and, aged just 25, he seemed to be on the cusp of greater achievement.

Unfortunately, injuries brought him low almost immediately thereafter. 2016 was a year of bitter disappointment for the Canadian, with a third-round showing at the Shanghai Masters his best result of the season. The addition of Mark Woodforde to his coaching team ahead of the 2017 brought about little improvement, despite two very creditable wins for Canada in their Davis Cup tie with Britain that February, and 2018 was equally frustrating.

When he missed the first half of the 2019 season after undergoing surgery for a herniated disc, his career looked to be fading away, his best years spent. But Pospisil was not so easily defeated. He returned to action at Wimbledon, playing on a protected ranking, where he lost in four sets to his compatriot Auger-Aliassime in the first round. That appeared to give him some confidence and just two months later he scored a statement win over Karen Khachanov in the first round at the US Open.

Pospisil then masterminded Canada’s run to the final at the inaugural Davis Cup Finals, beating Fabio Fognini, Reilly Opelka and John Millman in singles en route to the last four. There, after losing his singles tie to Andrey Rublev, he and Denis Shapovalov beat Rublev and Karen Khachanov in the decisive doubles rubber to lead Canada into its first ever Davis Cup final. In the end, Pospisil’s services were not called upon as Canada lost 2-0 to Spain, but it was a valuable reminder of his capabilities.

He took that momentum into the early weeks of the 2020 season. He began the year by reaching the second round at the ASB Classic as a qualifier and then, after a first-round exit in Melbourne, reached his second tour-level final at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier. It was the first time he had appeared in on the ATP Tour final since 2014. But his momentum was brought to a crashing halt when the season was suspended ahead of the Sunshine Double due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But at the US Open, Pospisil has picked up where he left off, despite having not played a competitive match since the Calgary Challenger in the last week of February. In the first round in New York, he proved too strong for the veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber, once ranked as high as 16th in the world, beating the German 7-6 7-5 7-6. That win set up a second-round clash with 25th seed Raonic, who arrived at the US Open having just reached the Cincinnati Masters final.

But Pospisil dismantled his countryman, recovering from dropping the first set to record a 6-7 6-3 7-6 6-3 win. And if that win was impressive, it pales in comparison with his five-set triumph over eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut. The Spaniard, last year a semifinalist at the All England Club, has established himself as one of the ATP Tour’s most consistent performers, the sort of player who outlasts and outmanoeuvres big-hitters such as Pospisil.

Bautista Agut looked to be on course to do just that when he recovered from losing the first set to take a 5-7 6-2 6-4 lead. Pospisil, however, was not to be denied. He stormed back into the contest in the fourth set, striking some mighty blows off the forehand side to drive Bautista Agut back from his customary position on the baseline. Pospisil took advantage of that to race through the decider, the match effectively decided by his superb, carved volley to seal his second break of the fifth set.

He next faces Alex de Minaur, in what looks like a formidable test. But it is one Pospisil should approach with confidence. The Australian plays a similar style of tennis to Bautista Agut, albeit with a greater willingness and ability to go down the line, which could hurt Pospisil. But the Canadian has shown this week that when he is fit, firing and focused, there are very few players he cannot beat. Which makes him a very dangerous opponent indeed and a player Canadian’s should be proud to call their own.

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