It took three hours and 12 minutes – and more crucially eight matches points – for Peter Polansky to finally overcome Marius Copil of Romania 7-6(3), 6-7(5), 7-6(12) and win his first-round match at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday evening.
Earlier Denis Shapovalov advanced to the second round of his first ATP Masters 1000 event outside the Rogers Cup with a decisive 6-3, 6-4 victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania.
It was an endless series of mini-dramas, as match point after match point unfolded by in the third set tiebreak between Polansky and the No. 81-ranked Copil. It began in earnest when Polansky led 6-3 – triple-match point. A couple of Polansky’s match point chances stood out – a low backhand slice by Copil when he trailed 7-8 that looked sure to go into the net but skimmed over forcing Polansky into an awkward backhand moving forward that wound up in the net.
Then at 10-11 the Romanian blasted a second serve that landed on the line and handcuffed Polansky.
The players had lots of long rallies with the pro-Polansky crowd in 1500-seat Stadium 5 hanging on every single strike of the ball. The ultimate match point featured one of the shorter rallies ending, mercifully for Polansky, when Copil went long with a forehand.
Polansky, normally a placid Peter kind of guy on the court, gave out a huge shout at the moment of victory, shook hands with Copil and soon was in the courtside seats hugging his mother Beata and sister Nicole.
It had to be completely other-worldly to play such a tense match. Copil himself had two match points – at 10-9 and 12-11 – but only after Polansky had been through six opportunities of his own to try to wrap up the match.
What kind of conversations was Polansky having with himself amid the madness of such a highly emotional contest? “A lot of curse words but in a positive way,” he said smiling. “I always try to stay positive even if I’m swearing. It’s just kind of part of my vocabulary sometimes.
“And I was telling myself to get the racquet up on his serve because his second serve was kicking up so high and so quick off the ground. And on that one match point that he hit that second serve off the line and it kind of skidded, I was thinking that I was going to lose that match after having so many match points.
“I feel like the shots he came up with on match points were ridiculous – the slice he hit (trailing 7-8) was like millimeters over the net. When I was up 6-3 he hit a ridiculous volley and then he played a rally when he hit every ball as hard as he could. I felt that my shots were on the opposite end of that – just missing by a little bit.”
Polansky was able to ride the energy of the crowd through the madcap ups-and-downs of the match. “It was actually pretty amazing for a tournament based in the U.S. to have that kind of crowd support,” he said. “And not just for my match but I know that Felix (Auger-Aliassime) and Vasek (Pospisil) get amazing support too. It’s really nice to play in front of them.”
Leading 3-2 in the final set, Polansky took a medical time-out to deal with a back problem. But it didn’t seem too serious because he smiled when he had a visit from the trainer. “Sometimes I get a tight back kind of thing,” he explained. “I had to take a couple of minutes for it to go away. I spoke to the trainer about it and he just kind of observed me for a minute and I was good to go.
“I took anti-inflams before the match already. It was one of those things that if it would have persisted, he would have treated me. But he just wanted to give it 30 seconds because it was just kind of like a spasm.”
Asked where the match fit on the ‘crazy meter’ of his long career, the 29-year-old Polansky (pictured early in the match above) recalled his 6-4, 3-6, 15-13 loss to American Denis Kudla in the second round of the 2013 French Open qualifying and said, “that one could have been a little more crazy because it was a Slam. However this was Slam quality – definitely a match to remember for me.”
The win set up a second round against No. 28 seed Adrian Mannarino of France on Saturday. The No. 23-ranked Frenchman, 29, has beaten Polansky in two previous meetings in straight sets – in the qualifying in Brisbane in 2011 and at the Australian Open in 2013.
Shapovalov advanced to the second round with a no-nonsense win over the No. 106-ranked Berankis. He broke serve to 4-2 in the opening set on a sloppy game by the Lithuanian that included two double faults, going on to take it 6-3 .
Two points later in the seventh game, the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., showed off his magic as a shot-maker when he angled a backhand half-volley off his shoe tops, hit near the net, at a gorgeous acute angle for a winner.
He started out the second set with another break in the third game but promptly gave it back on a double fault to level matters at 2-2.
Berankis again got a little shaky at 4-all, starting with a double fault and finishing with a backhand wide to lose serve on four points. Shapovalov served out the final game to 15, with the only real excitement coming when the 27-year-old Lithuanian hit a tweener on a rambling second point that he wound up losing.
Shapovalov will want to clean up a six-aces-to-seven-double faults stat as he advances in the event. But he has to be pleased with winning 88 per cent of first serve points and 61 per cent on second serve.
“From the warm-up today, I felt really good,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of matches under my belt the last couple of weeks, some good wins, so I felt that confidence on the court. I felt really comfortable – obviously the fans really helped me out. I always play well when they’re cheering me on. There were a lot of Canadians, and even Americans, cheering for me. So it’s pretty awesome.”
About Indian Wells and the playing in the dry desert air, he said, “I’m really enjoying the conditions here. I played in the shade today but I don’t mind playing in the heat. It’s not that effective because it’s pretty dry out here. I feel like the ball is really traveling through the court but at the same time the court is pretty slow. It’s a good kind of combo for me – I have time to have my big wind-ups for my shots but at the same time I feel like I can play very aggressive.”
The only real concern for him came at the end of the first set when he asked for the trainer and had a treatment (above) on court. “My back just stiffened up and it needed a crack,” Shapovalov said. “But it’s not really any issue. It feels fine but still a little bit sore. It just kind of got stuck a bit.”
But there was a look of concern of the faces of his team in the courtside seats – fitness trainer Stefano De Pirro, mother Tessa Shapovalova and coach Martin Laurendeau – as he lay prone on the court.
“Maybe once or twice,” he answered to a question about whether he had had the issue before. “It’s not something that’s constant.”
On the subject of his mother who is in Indian Wells with him, he said, “obviously she started me (in tennis). She’s the reason I’m here today. She still helps out so much on the court, off the court. Last year she wasn’t able to travel that much and I told her this year that I wanted her on the road a lot more. I’m lucky that she’s put in an effort to leave the kids, leave the club (TessaTennis in Concord north of Toronto) and come travel with me as much as possible. I hope to see a lot of her. She helps me prepare for my tournaments, for my matches. I don’t think there’s anyone who knows my game better than her. (Laughs). I think she knows my game better than me to be honest.”
In Saturday’s second round, Shapovalov will face 30th seed Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, who had a bye in the first round. It will be a first meeting between the No. 44-ranked Canadian, 18, and Cuevas, a 32-year-old who ranks No. 34 and is the father of six-month old and three-year-old daughters.
“DEFINITELY A POPCORN MATCH”
The highly-anticipated Vasek Pospisil – Félix Auger-Aliassime first-round at the BNP Paribas Open will be played in Stadium 2 – fourth match after an 11 a.m. start (2 p.m. ET in Canada) – on Friday.
“They’re both my friends so I really don’t want to go into it too deep,” Shapovalov said about the intriguing match-up. “It kind of sucks when you have to play another Canadian, especially when there’s only five of us in the draw. I’m looking forward to the match. It’s definitively a popcorn match. I’ll have my popcorn ready.”
There’s every reason to believe the players can play well – especially after having a day off on Thursday. As well as two rounds of qualifying this week, Pospisil had played four matches last week in the Oracle Challenger at Indian Wells. And Auger-Aliassime has played quite a bit of tennis lately himself – what with events in Budapest, Rotterdam, Marseille and the Oracle Challenger. So both should be rested.
While many people are interested in the match from a generational and national aspect – the 17-year-old, up-and-coming Canadian versus his 27-year-old well-established compatriot, an impartial observer such as current world No. 6 Dominic Thiem of Austria, 24, sees things from a different viewpoint. “We all know that Felix qualified and that he’s super young and super good,” Thiem said. “So it’s interesting if he qualifies and plays. It doesn’t matter that much against whom. All the other players are not interested because it’s a Canadian match but because he’s extremely young and everyone says that he’s extremely good. For many players, like me, it’s the first opportunity to watch a match of his and that’s why there’s more interest in this one than in some other matches.”
The somewhat eerie picture at the top here – Pospisil on court and an image of Auger-Aliassime in the background – resulted from Auger-Aliassime following Pospisil onto the same practice court 9 mid-afternoon on Thursday.
DABROWSKI ON TO SECOND ROUND
Gabriela Dabrowski and her partner Xu Yifan of China advanced to the second round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday with a 1-6, 6-1, [10-6] victory over Ashleigh Barty of Australia and American Coco Vandeweghe.
After a slow start, Dabrowski and Xu went 4/4 on the No-Ad ‘deuce’ points in the second set and stepped up their play in the match tiebreak to triumph in 66 minutes in Stadium 7.
Coach Scott Davidoff suggested that the slow start may have been due to Xu’s absence over the past month with a back issue.
Seeded third, Dabrowski and Xu will next play American Nicole Melichar and Czech Kveta Peschke, 6-3, 1-6, [10-3] winners on Thursday over Romanians Irina-Camelia Begu and Simona Halep.
INDIAN WELLS POST CARD
This Hockey Hall of Famer could not have looked more relaxed at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Wednesday, it’s the “Finnish Flash” – Teemu Selanne. The 47-year-old ended a tremendous NHL career with 1,457 points in 1,451 games (15th overall in career scoring) with Winnipeg, Anaheim, San Jose and Columbus. He currently owns a restaurant called the Selanne Steak House in toney Laguna Beach, California and has plans for another – a burger joint called The Penalty Box in Orange County.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz