It’s not exactly breaking news in this part of the golden state of California, but there were no clouds in the sky on Wednesday as main draw action began – only in the women’s event.
There was also continuing play in men’s qualifying, specifically for Canadians Vasek Pospisil hoped to win and advance to play in the BNP Paribas Open main draw for the ninth time in his career.
It wasn’t meant to be and the origins of his 7-6(5), 7-5 loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the final round can probably be traced back to his conversation with a reporter following his opening-round win over Egor Gerasimov on Tuesday.
Pospisil talked then about being tired and having an issue with a (left) quad strain.
From the beginning on Wednesday in Stadium 3 there were indications – landing a little gingerly on the left leg when he served for example – that he wasn’t as spry as he would like to be. Nonetheless, he had his moments of brilliance in a match that was uneven and marked by sharp shifts of momentum.
Pospisil was broken in the third game and Kokkinakis then seemed destined for an uncomplicated first-set victory – particularly after he served three aces in a row and what looked to be a fourth (except that it was a ‘let’) to take the game and a 5-3 lead. He wound up losing that ‘let’ point on an aggressive service return by Pospisil but wrapped up the game on the next point with – what else? – another ace.
After Pospisil held to 4-5, Kokkinakis’ bubble burst (not helped by having to serve into the sun) and he started out with the exact opposite of aces – consecutive double faults to fall behind love-30. He leveled at 30-all but Pospisil got the break two points later with an emphatic put-away forehand volley.
From there he held to love for 6-5 before things were eventually to be resolved in a tiebreak. He led it 4-1, apparently continuing his surge of the previous run of points and seemingly in control. But Kokkinakis got back to 4-all and then the set balanced on two points at 5-all – they featured probing, up-tempo, extended rallies that were the highlight, and the climax, of the set. Kokkinakis won both of them – the first on a forehand wide by Pospisil and the second on a backhand in the net.
Kokkinakis then took a five-minute comfort break off court and when he came back held serve, broke and held again to grab a 3-0 lead. Pospisil looked pretty well cooked. But the 31-year-old has always been bull strong and in spite of his physical issues, he made a gutsy comeback – breaking to 3-4 and then saving five break points to level the set at 4-all. That game brought to mind the French expression “l’énergie du désespoir” (the energy of hopelessness) as Pospisil battled with everything he had left – cracking a few absolute rocket forehand winners.
But he was beginning to wear down and at the change-overs at both 4-5 and 5-6 he received rub-downs of his left thigh by ATP Tour veteran trainer Per Bastholt. He looked frustrated and resigned when the Dane arrived to assist him.
Finally serving at 5-6, his fate was pretty well sealed when he missed badly with a high forehand, put-away volley into the net to make it 15-30. At 15-40, double match point, he saved the first with an ace but not the second. The coup de grace in the two-hour and 12-minute match was Kokkinakis’ wrong-footing him with an unreturnable forehand.
The 25-year-old Aussie is a solid baseline player but has none of the flare of Pospisil, who hit several sublimely-timed forehand inside/out drop shots that left Kokkinakis flat-footed – dead in his tracks. Even though he sometimes had short balls that might have been ideal for drop shots – Kokkinakis doesn’t have the finesse and feel of Pospisil and did not attempt a single one during the match.
There were moments when Pospisil’s ability to feather half-volley winners and regular volley rally-enders that made the Kokkinakis baseline game look decidedly one dimensional. But give the 6-foot-4 Aussie credit – he hung tough when Pospisil made inspired comebacks late in both sets and he served big – 12 aces to six for Pospisil as well had as these impressive numbers – 65 per cent first serves made and 82 percent won, plus 58 per cent second serves won. By comparison Pospisil was 54, 64 and 52.
The 31-year-old from Vancouver is not in the doubles so he may have time to mend his quad strain before his next event.
As for the No. 97-ranked Kokkinakis, he has had a star-crossed history of injuries – almost dating back to when he lost the Australian Open junior boys final to his close friend Nick Kyrgios in 2013. He is now in his first Indian Wells main draw since 2015, the year he reached his career-high ranking of No. 69.
After Wednesday’s match, Kokkinakis was thrilled to have gotten through against Pospisil, saying to the enthusiastic Stadium 3 crowd afterward, “thank you so much for coming out. It’s the qualifying but today it felt like a semi-final.”
He was wearing paisley shorts and provided a mike-drop moment near the end of the interview when he was asked about his fashion tastes. Smiling he said, “the good thing about getting dropped by Nike five years ago is that you can choose what you want to wear now.”
AROUND THE GROUNDS
The BNP Paribas Open is masterful at marketing its event – from promoting the Indian Wells Tennis Garden name for the tournament site to all its signature brand-name products on sale for visitors.
It’s remarkable just how huge the tent is that houses the main on-site shopping space. See below.
There is almost every kind of possible tennis-related item imaginable for purchase – including a variety of headwear – something that’s always useful with the sun beading down relentlessly in the greater Palm Springs area.
Jelena knows how to emote: Jelena Ostapenko, the surprise 2017 Roland Garros champion, is now back playing her trademark explosive tennis and has her ranking back up to No. 12 after being in the 40s just two years ago.
One of the most expressive players on the women’s tour, she is slated to lead the Latvian team that will play Canada in Billie Jean King Cup action next month in Vancouver.
Daniil is shorn: Daniil Medvedev is the new world No. 1 but between Rafael Nadal’s highly-publicized Australian Open victory in January, and Novak Djokovic taking up a lot of oxygen with his Australian Open participation controversy – as well as his game-playing vis a vis whether he was in or out of the BNP Paribas Open draw – the 26-year-old from Moscow has been relegated to a secondary role. In the meantime, he has had a haircut – getting his sometimes straggly locks under greater control with a much shorter cut.
WHAT’S AHEAD? Canadians will have to wait a few more days to see their three compatriots – Leylah Fernandez, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov – in action: All three are seeded and so have first-round byes. Fernandez and Shapovalov will make their debuts on Saturday while Auger-Aliassime doesn’t start his tournament until Sunday.