Many people know that Vasek Pospisil has one of the sunniest dispositions among professional tennis players. But on Sunday after a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan in the final round of the Australian Open qualifying event, he went beyond the call of duty.
Hurting after dealing with a painful knee injury for the final two sets of the match, Pospisil still took the time to pose for what seemed like an endless number of post-match selfies as he left Court 15 – including the one here.
He and the No. 141-ranked Ramanathan split the first two sets of an evenly-contested match and remained on serve to 4-all in the third set. Pospisil was playing well but the flashy Ramanathan was probably more impressive with big serving and an uncanny feel on his volleys. In fact he had only lost four points on serve through the first eight games of the final set.
But Pospisil didn’t let that faze him as he returned well and hit a sizzling forehand cross-court passing shot to get to 15-40 – double match point – on the Ramanathan serve in the tenth game. The 23-year-old Indian saved the first match point with a service winner but Pospisil steered a beauty backhand pass down-the-line for a winner on the next point to clinch a berth in the 2018 Australian Open main draw.
“I’m just glad I got through – the conditions were really tough,” Pospisil said after the match. “It was very windy and I wasn’t feeling very good on the serve. I was just trying to hold serve and play smart. He was serving quite well so it was tricky. I got some knee pain in the match yesterday (against Stefano Napolitano of Italy in the second round) and then it went away. I thought it would be fine today.
“It started hurting in the second set and then it was quite painful on the (service) returns. I was having some sharp pains. I’ll be getting an ultrasound and potentially an MRI depending on what they see. I’m a little bit fortunate to get out of the match because I wasn’t feeling particularly good physically. But I played well and I hit some great shots in the last game.”
Pospisil had visits from the trainer in the second and third sets and then consulted with his coach, Dirk Hordorff (above), on his way back to the locker room.
Asked about the exact nature of the injury, Pospisil said, “I don’t know but my cartilage is pretty used up. But I haven’t had issues with this. It just came out of nowhere.”
More opportunistic than Ramanathan – breaking on two of his four chances to just one of six for the Indian – Pospisil was concerned about the knee from the fifth game of the second set when he tweaked it.
“I was a little bit just forgetting about the knee pain and just trying to focus that last game,” he said about his success in breaking the Ramanathan serve for the match. “At the end of that set I was just trying to dig in and try to play point by point. Before that it was tough to stay focused because of the pain. I was just trying to hold serve.”
Pospisil faces an obvious challenge in getting ready for his opening-round match – third (after an 11 a.m. start – 7 p.m. ET in Canada) on Hisense Arena on Monday against No. 6 seed Marin Cilic.
Hordorff was pleased with his man on Sunday, saying about Pospisil, “it’s been different conditions every day – today cold and windy. I’m proud that he managed the qualifying that had rain delays and not very easy circumstances.”
Pospisil also managed to overcome a very talented opponent who made a variety of acrobatic shots – especially on the volley. “He (Ramanathan) made second serve aces on critical points,” Hordorff said. “You have to stay calm and wait for your chance, which Vasek did. It was very professional effort.”
About the knee, Hordorff remarked, “in the second set you could see that on the return he couldn’t really push right from his knee. We’re going to go with him now to have an ultrasound and from the results we’ll go and see what’s next.”
That certainly indicates some doubt about the 27-year-old Pospisil’s ability to play Cilic on Monday’s first day of the 2018 Australian Open. Sadly, it has happened before. At the 2014 Australian Open, a back injury forced him to withdraw before his third-round match against eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. It was a problem that then persisted for four or five months until the grass-court season.
Earlier on Sunday, Peter Polansky missed out on an opportunity for his third Australian Open main draw when he lost a one hour and 55-minute struggle with Yuki Bhambri by a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 score.
That was remarkably similar to the Indian’s first round 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Brayden Schnur.
“The first match I played I didn’t get used to the conditions and today I think I was just a bit more nervous,” Bhambri said by way of explaining his slow starts against the two Canadians.
After dropping the opening set, Bhambri got breaks in the seventh and ninth games to take the second 6-3. Total points at that moment were 50 apiece.
Polansky had the first opportunity to break in the final set – failing to convert two break points with Bhambri serving at 3-all.
In the very next game, Bhambri turned the tables after Polansky had two game points. On his first break point, Bhambri was gifted the break when Polansky double-faulted long.
Last year Polansky beat Bhambri 7-6(5), 7-6(5) in the first round of the French Open qualifying and then the 25-year-old Indian reversed matters at the Ilkley Challenger on grass in England before Wimbledon, winning 6-7(4), 7-6(7), 6-3.
“We’d never played before last year and then we played twice,” Bhambri said, “and suddenly we played at the French Open and before Wimbledon. I was actually talking to him about it and saying the only surface we have yet to play on is hard – and here we are four or five months later and we’re on hard.”
It was a very close match with Bhambri being more of the aggressor as the winners to unforced errors indicates – Bhambri was 23/35 while Polansky was 12/28.
“The match took a huge momentum change in the second set,” said Canadian Davis Cup captain, and second round qualifying loser, Frank Dancevic. “After one really long rally in the second set Bhambri got rhythm and he started playing longer points, The longer the points the more Bhambri had an edge because he just advanced on each point. He was being aggressive and coming to the net and finishing the points.”
“It was a good match overall. It was just a matter of four balls (points) – that made the whole difference. The break points that Peter had – 15-40, 30-40 (at 3-all) in the third. One of those points would have changed the whole match. Peter breaks there and it’s 4-3 in the third. And then he had two game points serving, 40-30 (at 3-4). So it could have gone the other way and easily been 5-3 for Peter in the third set.:
“Those four points just gave Bhambri that edge. The hold and the break – it changed the whole momentum of the third set.”
Polansky’s loss had a silver lining when he got into the main draw via the lucky loser route for the second year in a row. He will face No. 48-ranked Karen Khachanov of Russia, 21, on Tuesday.
We caught up with Milos Raonic on Saturday ahead of his first round match on Tuesday against no. 90-ranked Lukas Lacko of Slovakia – starting with a bit of an off-the-wall question:
Q: Have you given Nick Kyrgios permission to wear a sleeve?
MR: (Smile) No – I haven’t even discussed that with him.
Q: Alex de Minaur (18 years old) played incredibly well when he beat you (6-4, 6-4) in Brisbane – it’s kind of amazing that a young guy can play that great?
MR: He’s been playing well. I’ve watched a lot of his matches. In Sydney this week he’s been playing well, winning a lot of matches comfortably. I was quite impressed with him.
Q: What about the match in Tokyo (in October) against Viktor Troicki (Raonic won 6-3, 6-4 ) when you didn’t hit any two-handed backhands? What was that all about?
MR: I wasn’t ready at that point. I’d been home for a while. I think I pushed it a little bit too early to come back (after a left wrist surgical procedure). I’ve always enjoyed Tokyo, not only as a tournament but as a city and I really wanted to be there. When I was there I realized I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be. Then another injury prevailed (right calf) shortly after that – and that was sort of a sign to end the year.
Q: You hit the serve and the forehand very well that day against Troicki – but were you surprised you could beat him just hitting single-handed backhands.
MR: I don’t use the backhand that much anyways. I was surprised how well I returned consistently because normally I don’t like to chip on returns. But when I knew I was going to be under those conditions I had the chance to adjust. When I slice it also gives me time to get back into the court and get a forehand.
Q: Are you worried about the lack of matches coming in here – you sort of had the same thing at Wimbledon last year?
MR: No, not by any means. For me it’s all about being in shape and healthy. That’s the main thing.
Q: What do you like about coach Javier Piles (David Ferrer’s former coach)?
MR: He’s just willing to spend time and he’s always there. He gives me the time on court especially now since I haven’t been playing much.
Q: How did the contact with him come about?
MR: It was a combination of somebody with his kind of work ethic but also somebody that could give me ‘x’ amount of weeks, which is hard to find from many coaches nowadays.
Q: Davis Cup against Croatia in Croatia (Feb 2-4), any idea of the chances that you’ll play?
MR: It’s really about assessing everything after here. Everything that I’ve done even to here has been a weekly question mark. So that’s why I’ve tried to sort of adjust that way.
This picture was taken at Manly Beach, which is across the harbour from the Central Business District in Sydney. It’s probably not surprising that a seagull has the prized perch.