All the good karma that came together for Vasek Pospisil’s sensational upset of world No. 1 Andy Murray on Saturday night seemed to desert him Monday against Dusan Lajovic in the third round of the BNP Parisbas Open in Indian Wells.
It began with the match preceding Pospisil – Lajovic in Stadium 4 being cancelled when an injured Roberto Bautista Agut (stomach muscle) withdrew from his third round with Spanish compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta.
So instead of Pospisil – Lajovic beginning at approximately 5 p.m. when the sun starts to go down and California desert temperatures begin to cool markedly, the first ball of the match was struck at 3:15 p.m.
Monday’s Indian Wells high was 35.5 Centigrade (96 Fahrenheit) and it’s a widely known that Pospisil is not at his best in humidity and also in heat.
He had played all his previous qualifying, main-draw singles and doubles matches late in the day or in the evening and being in the furnace of mid-afternoon was not ideal for him.
Still he got to match point in the two-hour and 28-minute contest so his eventual 7-6(4), 6-3, 7-5 loss to the No. 106-ranked Lajovic, a qualifier like him, can’t be attributed entirely to the heat.
A successful match point with Lajovic serving at 4-5, advantage Pospisil in the third set, would have made for an altogether different story with the theme changing to how he overcame such withering conditions.
But fate again intervened. On that match point Pospisil came to the net and volleyed and seemed to have Lajovic outplayed. But the 26-year-old Serb somehow improvised a forehand inside/out passing shot that landed good.
“It was a forehand on the line jumping backwards,” is how Lajovic later described it. “I was mostly in the backhand side jumping backwards. It was a little bit lucky because it went on the line and I managed somehow to escape the match point.” Pospisil was more expansive in expressing the view from his side of the net. “On the match point,” he said about Lajovic, “he just closed his eyes and he ripped a forehand passing shot as if it was any point in the match. So…good for him, you don’t see that every day. From my angle I hit a good deep volley and I covered the cross-court and he got it by me by just ripping it.”
Pospisil sighed and added wryly, “that’s too good. He just really let go and it fell on the outside of the line. I guess it wasn’t meant to be with a shot like that. It was disappointing because I feel that I played the right point and he just came up with the best shot of the match. It was almost like this half-volley or whatever – and credit to him.”
The match began well for Pospisil. He lost only five points on serve in getting to the first-set tiebreak and he also had the only break point which Lajovic saved when Pospisil hit a forehand long in the fourth game. The tiebreak was all Pospisil as he took a 4-1 lead and closed it out by expertly sticking a forehand volley winner.
The second set looked promising when he broke to lead 3-2 but became much messier when Lajovic immediately broke back to 3-3 and then again to lead 5-3. Pospisil fought valiantly when Lajovic served for the second set – saving four set points – but finally the 26-year-old Serb blasted a backhand passing shot winner down-the-line and let out a loud “c’mon.”
Pospisil took a four-minute bathroom break at the end of the second set and returned looking somewhat revived after sketchy play toward the end of the second set.
“At 2-all in the third I felt like he was getting tired,” Lajovic said about Pospisil. “But after that game he served it out well and he came back. At the end I didn’t feel he was as tired because in the past he maybe had some problems in long matches on hot days. Today I felt like he got over that crisis.”
Maybe not. The heat was a major factor for Pospisil, starting after the first set.
“It definitely affected me today,” he said. “It was hot out there and it was a physical match. When you go through important parts of the match you sometimes rely on that extra energy and focus which I felt was just lacking a little bit today.
“My serve really let me down. The first set when I had more juice in my legs I was fine and serving well. The second and third sets my percentage was 43 per cent so with that kind of per cent it’s always going to be tough even if you’re up a break.”
There was also a mental price to pay in the torrid conditions. “It’s just more difficult to concentrate,” he said. “Today was the first time in the week that I felt my mind was kind of – as the match was going on – I was struggling with really being focused. I was thirsty and I sweat a lot too which is an unfortunate reality.”
There was a lot of love from the crowd in Stadium 4 for Pospisil but it couldn’t quite get him over the hump. Near the end, he kept a water bottle at the back of the court and took a few sips whenever there was a break between points.
Leading 5-3 in the final set after breaking Lajovic with a low forehand passing shot that handcuffed the Serb near the net, Pospisil had a chance to serve out the match. But he couldn’t summon the energy and the resolve to close it out – losing the game on four points, the last three being unforced errors.
After Lajovic saved the match point trailing 5-4, Pospisil only won two more points – losing serve to 15 before the Serb served out to 15, profiting from a rash of unforced errors from Pospisil, including a backhand into the net on match point.
There was another fateful twist to the match that many observers may have wondered about – why was he wearing a black outfit on a searing hot day? “I have no choice,” Pospisil explained. “It is a kit that I have to wear. That was also one of the things I was a little nervous about. I was happy to be playing night matches every day up until today.”
A hard day for Pospisil ended with a 7-6(4), 6-7(4), [10-4] loss in the second round of doubles to eighth-seeded Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil.
The stats from the match claimed there were no break points but Pospisil and Johnson had two. One was at 4-all in the second set when Johnson drilled a forehand right at Kubot at the net. The Pole somehow got part of his racquet on the ball and ‘plopped’ back a backhand volley that landed just inside the baseline and just out of the reach of a desperately lunging Pospisil. It was just that kind of day.
Pospisil and Johnson won the second set tiebreak fairly handily – helped by a 3-0 lead off the hop and a strong breaker with positive volleying from Pospisil.
But in the ultimate match tiebreak things began to unravel at 2-2 when a Pospisil forehand tipped the top of the net and ricocheted long giving Kubot and Melo a mini-break. Things just got worse and eventually the usually mild-mannered Johnson had had enough and slung his racquet into the net after missing a backhand volley that made it 9-3 – sextuple match point.
The match ended at 9:08 p.m. and that would be less than 20 hours before Johnson has a Stadium 1 date on Tuesday with none other than Roger Federer.
As for Pospisil, he is not too keen on the heat and humidity of Miami, so he will bypass next week’s qualifying for the Miami Open.
Instead, he’ll travel south of the U.S. border to play Challenger events in Mexico – the $50,000 tournament in Guadalajara next week followed by a $75,000 in Leon.
“In a couple of days I’ll look back and I’ll think that I had an incredible win a couple of nights ago,” he summed up after Monday night’s match. “Right now I’m not thinking like that because I wanted to do well in the tournament. I felt like I was playing well enough to go deep. But that’s just how it goes and I’ll go onto the next event and keep winning matches and going back up in the rankings.”
In terms of the ATP rankings, a victory over Lajovic would have bumped his current No. 129 ranking up to about No. 110 with an opportunity to go even higher. As things are now, he’ll be more in the No. 120 range.
Arriving in the Palm Springs area from Los Angeles on Highway 10, the most striking feature of the land – aside from the mountains – is the tremendous number of power-generating windmills spread out on the landscape. The last few days, however, there has been virtually no wind so they have remained unusually static.