TORONTO – It was a dream week that stunned the tennis world and has forever changed Vasek Pospisil’s life.
The tennis professional who learned how to play the game as a toddler in Vernon arrived in Montreal last Monday for the Rogers Cup as a Canadian wildcard with little fanfare.
Understandably, most of the attention was focused on the megastars of the sport – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, as well as Canadian No. 1 Milos Raonic.
Pospisil had taken the red-eye flight from Vancouver Sunday night, where he had just won the VanOpen, a Challenger event that is akin to the minor leagues of tennis. It was his second Challenger title of the year, and fourth of his career, and showed that he was coming to the Montreal Masters Series tournament – one of the most elite international events on the tennis calendar – in good form. He was anxious to see how he could do against the world’s best.
Six days, four victories and one heartbreakingly narrow defeat later, he’s the talk of the ATP Tour – seeing his ranking jump from 71st in the world last week all the way to No. 40 at the start of this week, with many observers believing he’s on the fast track toward being a global superstar in the sport.
“I learned I have the level to play with these (top) guys,” said the 23-year-old, shortly after his remarkable run ended with a tough semifinal loss to Raonic, in a match that made Canadian tennis history with two Canucks reaching the final four of a Masters Series event for the first time.
“It’s not like I won (just) one match. In the years before, I would win one match on pure adrenaline. This year I had good wins, and I had good wins in the weeks leading up to this. I feel like now it’s a little different this time around. I feel like I’m much more confident in my abilities and where my game is right now.”
Pospisil thanked the people of his hometown of Vernon, where he learned to play the game before moving to Vancouver about 10 years ago to get the level of training needed to become a pro. He said it meant a lot to him that everyone in Vernon has been cheering him on – not just this week, but all through the years leading up to this breakthrough.
“I get a lot of messages on social media. I have a lot of support,” he said. “It’s always great knowing people are aware of what I’m doing over there because Vernon, I grew up there. It’s my hometown. It’s a special thing for me. I grew up playing on cracked high school courts with my dad. Hopefully, something good for the community will come out of this.”
Because of his phenomenal play at the Rogers Cup, Pospisil gained a direct entry into the main draw of the tour’s next Masters Series event in Cincinnati this week. His magical month got even sweeter Tuesday when No. 15 Gilles Simon of France retired (injury) with Pospisil up 6-3, 1-1 at the $3.7 million Western & Southern Open.
Pospisil’s Rogers Cup run also guaranteed him a spot in the main draw of the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, the U.S. Open in New York, which begins at the end of August. After that, he will travel to Serbia to represent Canada in the Davis Cup semifinals, where he hopes to make more Canadian tennis history.
Pospisil’s Week in Montreal:
Tuesday, Aug. 6: Pospisil after beating No. 22-ranked John Isner (USA) 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 in the first round – “It was incredible. You can see the smile on my face. That explains it all. Especially winning against a player like him makes it even more special here in Montreal. I hope I will experience that many more times because this is exactly the reason why I’m playing tennis, just to live those moments.”
Wednesday, Aug. 7: Pospisil after beating No. 57-ranked Radek Stepanek (Czech Republic) 6-2, 6-4 in the second round – “Confidence is extremely important. I step onto the court not worrying so much about winning. I don’t feel the stress much. It makes a great difference. When you are confident, everything goes well.”
Thursday, Aug: 8: Pospisil after beating world No. 6 Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 in the third round – “I feel I can play with anybody now. I just beat a guy sixth in the world. That’s huge for me. The key was really not thinking too much out there, when there’s big moments, stick to the patterns, try to be solid. Obviously, I was fortunate that it worked out.”
Friday, Aug. 9: Pospisil after beating No. 38 Nikolay Davydenko (Russia) 3-0 (retired with bronchitis/breathing problems) in the quarterfinals – “It came at a perfect time to have a bit of a rest. Even through three games, I was really trying to catch my breath. It felt like I had a bit of sore legs, making me a little bit tired. But I was hitting the ball well.”
Saturday, Aug. 10: Pospisil after losing to No. 10 Raonic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6: “Definitely a tough loss for me. I had chances, then he played well in some moments. Others, I made a few mistakes I haven’t been making this week and wouldn’t normally make. We played each other so many times. We grew up together. I don’t think either one wanted to lose. Maybe if it was somebody else, who knows, maybe I would have won and I wouldn’t have gotten a little bit nervous at the end. I think somebody had to lose it and unfortunately for me it was me.”