It was painful to watch, and it didn’t really seem like it had to happen, but Vasek Pospisil lost a tennis match on Wednesday – this one in the Australian Open qualifying first round to No. 191-ranked Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus by a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 score.
The post-match return to the locker room, pictured above, had to be full of ‘what-ifs?’ for the 26-year-old from Vancouver.
All seemed under control as he broke serve in the second game and soon led 3-0, basically riding that advantage to take the opening set.
In the second, he seemed on course for more of the same when he had break points at 2-all. But he failed to convert, was broken himself in the next game and an inexorable momentum shift had begun. Ignatik started to dominate, taking the second set and grabbing a two-break 3-0 lead in the third. The 26-year-old hit fairly big and ventured forward (13/20 at the net) but Pospisil, playing his normal game, should have been able to counter all of that.
He made a valiant effort to get back in the third set and had 15-40 (two break points) with Ignatik serving at 5-4. But Pospisil didn’t get another ball back in play as the Belorussian hit two aces and two unreturnables to wrap up the match in an hour and 51 minutes.
It’s frustrating to watch Pospisil because he can still hit all the shots – his winners/unforced errors ratio was 40/28 while Ignatik was only 28/26, and at the net he was an impressive 26/35. But there’s something missing. He was only 2/10 on break point chances while Ignatik was 3/7.
It had been hoped that new coach Mark Woodforde would help him bounce back from a disappointing year that saw his ranking drop from No. 39 to No. 133, but that relationship remains in its infant stages.
The loss means Pospisil will not play singles again until Canada faces Great Britain in Davis Cup from February 3-5 in Ottawa. Captain Martin Laurendeau suggested Wednesday that the faster indoor court used for Davis Cup should help Pospisil focus more clearly on playing aggressively because there are really not other options on that surface.
Pospisil remains in the men’s doubles event playing with Czech veteran Radek Stepanek.
Steven Diez, who spends more time in Spain than he does in his home city of Toronto, suffered a similar fate to Pospisil, beaten 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 by the not-so-formidable tennis of No. 209-ranked Yannik Reuter of Belgium.
Diez seemed unhappy with something about his racquet as he fell behind and lost the first set but he regrouped and was clearly superior in the second. He carried that into the third – although Reuter picked up again and made it more competitive. Leading 4-3 in that final set, Diez looked more likely to be the winner. But Reuter levelled at 4-4 and then, and there’s no other way to put this, other than to say that from then on Diez had trouble keeping a ball in the court. It was a decidedly anticlimactic ending to what had been a close match for most of its two hours and two minutes.
Peter Polansky, playing in his eighth Aussie Open qualifying, provided a positive Canadian result on the opening day as he outplayed No. 215-ranked Tristan Lamasine 6-2, 6-4 in a mere 66 minutes.
The Frenchman had a few moments but essentially Polansky was just too efficient and consistent – winning 42 of 72 baseline points and finishing with a winners to unforced errors ratio of 18/12 compared to 18/30 for the 23-year-old Lamasine.
“I played him in Granby (winning 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the National Bank Challenger) last summer and I knew he was pretty flashy,” Polansky said about Lamasine. “He can hit really well at times and kind of just shut down at others. He just goes for so much, hits the hell out of the ball. I just hung in there and I knew eventually he’d miss. If he found his rhythm a couple of times, that’s ‘too good.’ But otherwise I think I had him beat.”
About this being the start of a new season, Polansky, whose No. 134 ranking is not far off his career best of No. 122 in 2014, said, “it’s the first couple of tournaments of the year so everyone’s not 100 per cent comfortable – especially when you get to a moment when you’re serving for the match or at break point. Getting into a Grand Slam you’ve got to be at the top of your game. It’s tough to do.”
About the Pospisil and Diez losses, Polansky said, “it’s unfortunate. I thought they had a good shot and that both might have won those matches.”
Polansky now faces No. 180-ranked Mirza Basic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I know I played Basic here like maybe four years ago in the first or second round of qualies [three years ago in the first round and won 6-4, 7-6(10)] but he was lower ranked, like maybe 250. He’s been having some better results as of late. But I don’t remember too much so I’ll check it out.”
With that Polansky headed over to nearby Court 14 to watch Basic on his way to victory over Lorenzo Giustino of Italy by a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Polansky could probably have won best dressed player on the day – looking very classy in his Lululemon duds.
BOUCHARD POWDERS PAVLYUCHENKOVA
Genie Bouchard continued her resurgence on Wednesday, reaching the semifinals of the WTA Premier event in Sydney with 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 27-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The 25-year-old Russian had beaten Grand Slam champions Sam Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova in her two previous rounds but she was no watch for a sharp and in-form Bouchard.
“It’s a good step,” Bouchard was quoted as saying about the match on the Apia International tournament website, repeating her usual mantra, “I don’t want to get too happy after a win or too sad after a loss. So for me it’s just a good step in the right direction.”
The win means Bouchard has her best result since reaching the final in Kuala Lumpur 11 months ago and it sets up a semifinal meeting with world No. 10 Johanna Konta.
Bouchard defeated the 26-year-old Brit of Hungarian descent 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in the second round at Wimbledon last year. But Konta, who rose from No. 47 to No. 10 in 2016 while Bouchard stagnated at No. 48 to No. 47, is an improved player.
The No. 49-ranked Bouchard suggested that thinking about that Wimbledon match “will remind me that it’s going to be a huge battle. I won but it was really, really tough. I’m not going in thinking, ‘oh yeah, I won the last one.’ I barely got through the last one. She’s a top-10 player. She’s playing her best tennis right now. I know she will be pretty aggressive.”
Konta barely has Bouchard in height – 5’11” to 5’10” – and both players are hard hitters so it should be a compelling contest.
The other semifinal on Thursday (the event has a Friday evening final) will match unseeded Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic against second seed, and world No. 3, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.
Bouchard’s three wins in Sydney would appear to suggest that reuniting – after last year’s five months together – with coach Thomas Hogstedt is proving beneficial. The 53-year-old former player from Sweden has previously worked with Maria Sharapova, Li Na and, more recently, Madison Keys.
RAONIC’S HAND TIED?
Milos Raonic had a practice session on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday – spending quite a bit of time volleying with his left arm behind his back.
A little research turned up that doing that is something dating back to the days of legendary Australian Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman in the mid-20th century. Apparently practicing with the off arm in that position helps improve touch and feel with the volleying arm.
WOZNIAK, ABANDA DEBUT IN QUALIES
Aleksandra Wozniak, on the way back from several years of shoulder problems including surgery, is in the Aussie Open qualifying via a wild card and will face 34-year-old French veteran Virginie Razzano on Thursday.
These two have a lot of tennis behind them. Wozniak, 29 and ranked No. 298, will be attempting to reach the main draw of her 28th Grand Slam. Razzano has her beat in that regard, having played in 59 Grand Slams – including famously upsetting Serena Williams at Roland Garros in 2012.
Razzano’s highest ranking was No. 16 in 2009 while Wozniak peaked at No. 21 that same year.
In their only previous encounter – on hard court in Beijing in 2008 – Wozniak won 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-4.
Francoise Abanda is playing in her second Australian Open qualifying, having lost in the first round in 2015 to Shahar Peer. Now ranked No. 176, she will face the unforgettably-named Storm Sanders.
The 22-year-old Aussie, ranked No. 290 and a wild card entrant, holds the dubious distinction of having lost in the first round of qualifying in each of the last five years.
Abanda, 19, will want to prolong that streak and she won their only previous meeting – 6-4, 6-2 at a 2015 Challenger event in Charlottesville, Virginia.
AUSTRALIAN POST CARD
Last week on a beach south of Sydney, these little critters washed up en masse. They’re ‘blue bottle jellyfish’ and hundreds could be found on the beach that day – apparently because of an east wind. A lifeguard claimed that a sting from a ‘blue bottle’ can range anywhere “from four to eight or nine” on the pain scale.
NOTE: Back on Thursday with the second day of Aussie Open qualifying.