There has never been much doubt about the appeal of Vasek Pospisil’s versatile tennis game or the charisma of the man himself. On Saturday night at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., both came together in perfect harmony as he rode a wave of partisan support from the near capacity crowd to defeat world No. 1 Andy Murray 6-4, 7-6(5) in the second round.
There were rousing cheers of “let’s go Vasek” when he changed ends ahead 4-2 in the second-set tiebreak – and even Murray later acknowledged that he could understand the Stadium 1 spectators’ feelings for his opponent. “I think the crowd likes him,” the 29-year-old Scot said. “The guy was being aggressive, and he came up with some fantastic shots as well. So they really got into it.”
Murray expressed disappointment with his serving playing in front of an energized crowd of about 16,000 on a pleasant California desert evening, and also with the opportunities he missed when Pospisil went to the net – which he did 44 times, winning 25 of those points.
“I was giving myself decent looks at passing shots and I missed a few tonight,” Murray said. “(But) he also came up with some really good reflex volleys at important moments and on important points.”
The crowd response for his opponent didn’t faze Murray, at least that’s what he claimed. “It helps, if anything,” he said. “It was a really good atmosphere at the end. It was pretty much a full crowd after the first 15, 20 minutes. So it was a nice atmosphere.”
On court immediately after the match, Pospisil was overcome with the emotion of having beaten a world No. 1 for the first time – and become the first Canadian to do so since a 19-year-old Daniel Nestor upset then No. 1 Stefan Edberg almost exactly 25 years ago during a 1992 Canada – Sweden Davis Cup tie in Vancouver.
“I’m so thrilled in front of this crowd,” Pospisil said in his on-court interview. “The atmosphere was amazing. This is so great I’m speechless.”
All night long he let his tennis do the talking. In terms of his composure, he stayed within himself and was able to twice (1-3 and 2-4) come from a service break behind to win the first set, helped in some measure by a shaky game by Murray (two double faults) when the Brit served at 4-all.
The second set looked like it might be a run-away for Pospisil when he broke serve in the opening game, held to 2-0 and then had 15-40 on the Murray serve to go ahead 3-0. But a solid volley on the first break point and a service winner on the second got Murray back to deuce and he eventually held. He broke back in the following game and the set fell into a pattern of service holds with no one having a break point until the score reached 6-all.
There was a notable entrance right behind the court during the change-over at 2-1 for Pospisil in the second set. Former World Heavyweight champion Mike Tyson came in accompanied by a woman and sat in the Champions Box. He joined (above second from left to the far right) billionaire tournament owner Larry Ellison, restaurateur Meir Teper, and Canadian music producer (and father-in-law of tournament director Tommy Haas) David Foster.
The second-set tiebreak started evenly as Pospisil held his two service points to make it 2-1, the second with a terrific forehand volley that was followed by a celebratory leap that got a big roar from the crowd.
Murray’s vulnerability showed on the following point as he double-faulted with a miss-hit that went flying way out of court to give Pospisil a 3-1 lead that he never relinquished. But there was still drama to come when he got to 6-2 as Murray misfired with yet another passing shot. Holding a quadruple match point advantage, it looked a done-deal but Murray rallied, saving three match points and then serving at 6-5. Pospisil then managed to get his service return in play and finally wrapped up the match with a clean forehand winner off a short ball from the Murray racquet.
“I felt like a big result was coming,” Pospisil said afterward, “because I believe in my abilities. Obviously to beat the No. 1 player in the world is incredible. I mean it’s the biggest win of my career and I’m just thrilled right now.”
Murray has never been really at ease in Indian Wells – a semifinal in 2015 and a final in 2009 were his best results in 11 previous appearances and he went out in the third round 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3) to No. 53 Federico Delbonis a year ago.
Two years ago in the same round, Murray beat Pospisil 6-1, 6-3. “I think it definitely helped me get a little bit more belief,” Pospisil said about knowing Murray is not that comfortable at Indian Wells. “I played him here a couple of years ago and he took me out fairly easily. Yeah, knowing that helps, and having good results here in doubles (winner in 2015 and runner-up in 2016 with Jack Sock) in the past.”
Murray is now 12-3 for the year but probably still haunted by the shocking 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 loss to No. 50-ranked Mischa Zverev in the round-of-16 at the Australian Open. The 29-year-old German used a full-out net-rushing approach to de-stabilize Murray that day, and Pospisil was asked if the match had figured in his game-plan for Saturday night. “Well, I did see that match,” he said. “But that would have been the game-style I would have taken regardless of how Mischa played. Maybe there was a bit more confidence because he had done it that way.”
Summing up what he was most pleased about his performance, he said, “I’d say not letting him get into a rhythm, not letting him feel the conditions. I was trying to kind of be a little bit unpredictable and not play long points.
“I guess I was most proud, especially at the end of the second set, of not getting discouraged. Being up a break and having a chance to be (3-0) up two breaks, and just kind of keeping my head down and keeping up with what I was doing.”
Pospisil and partner Steve Johnson reached the second round of the doubles on Friday evening with a 3-6, 6-4, [11-9] victory over Marcin Matkowski of Poland and Austrian Alexander Peya. Next they face the winner of No. 8 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo versus Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
The Pospisil-Johnson opening-round match was played in Stadium 9 (above) in front of a packed house with people lining up to get in.
In the singles third-round on Monday, Pospisil has a win-able match against fellow-qualifier and fellow 26-year-old Dusan Lajovic. The Serb defeated Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(2) on Saturday. In their only previous meeting – on grass in s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, in 2014 – Pospisil emerged with a 6-4, 7-5 win over the current world No. 106.
Regarding his approach going forward after his upset win over Murray, Pospisil said, “I’m going to enjoy this tonight and tomorrow I’m going to wake up and try to forget about it as much as possible. I’m going to try to focus on my next opponent who’s a good one. I have played him before and he’s a good competitor. So it will be a good opportunity for both of us.”
Waiting in the fourth round for the winner will be one of two Spaniards – either No. 16 seed Roberto Bautista Agut or No. 21 Pablo Carreno Busta.
After suffering back pain during his final singles qualifying match on Wednesday and now having played four singles and one doubles match over the past five days, Pospisil gets a welcome rest on Sunday. His next doubles and singles matches will not be until Monday.
Daniel Nestor and partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin were beaten 6-7(4), 6-2, [10-3] by fourth seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the doubles first round on Saturday.
The pattern for a roller coaster match was established early as Nestor and Roger-Vasselin broke Murray in the opening game on a beauty forehand topspin lob winner by Nestor. But then Nestor played a sloppy game serving at 3-2 and the set was level at 3-3 before he and Roger-Vasselin broke again on a low, hard service return by the 33-year-old Frenchman.
Nestor then served for the set at 5-4 but was broken on a screaming backhand service return winner by Soares.
The tiebreak that decided the set featured two dynamic swings. Murray and Soares led it 4-1 only to drop six points in a row to lose the first set.
In the second set, Roger-Vasselin double-faulted twice in the opening game and Murray and Soares broke and basically outplayed Nestor and Roger-Vasselin the rest of the way to force a match tiebreak.
At 3-all in the match tiebreak, Roger-Vasselin missed a service return on a second serve from Soares and then Nestor served and dumped a volley in the net. He and Roger-Vasselin lost the following point as well after an exchange of lobs that ended with a smash winner by Murray to give his side a two mini-breaks 6-3 lead. They soon extended that to 8-3 with Murray’s service points and the match was over for all intents and purposes.
Nestor and Roger-Vasselin are now a disappointing 4-5 for the 2017 season.
“I’ve always had a hard time against Murray and Soares,” Nestor had said before playing the Brit/Brazilian pairing. “Last year they beat me in Australia, Monte Carlo and the Rogers Cup in Toronto.”
Here are those results from 2016:
Australian Open F: Murray/Soares def. Nestor and R. Stepanek 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Monte Carlo R16: Murray/Soares def. Nestor and R. Stepanek 6-7(5), 7-6(9), [14-12].
Rogers Cup SF: Murray/Soares def Nestor and V. Pospisil 6-4, 6-7(5), [10-7]
Nestor, 44, was playing Indian Wells for the 22nd time – dating back to a second-round loss partnering Mark Knowles to Boris Becker and Guy Forget in 1995.
All with Knowles, he has won the title four times including victories in the final over Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter in 1997, Roger Federer and Max Mirnyi in 2002 and then Bob and Mike Bryan in 2006.
Driving around Indian Wells and the greater Palm Springs area is all about wide boulevards, palm trees, beautiful vistas and 45 mph speed limits to make sure the largely senior citizen population doesn’t get too frisky on the roads.
NOTE: Back with blog on Monday as Pospisil plays Lajovic in a bid to reach the round-of-16.
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