Vasek Pospisil survived a lull in the second and third sets before rebounding to take control in a 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 8-6 victory over Britain’s James Ward in Wimbledon’s third round on Saturday.
The No. 56-ranked Pospisil was superior to Ward, a wild card ranked No. 111, in the opening set but played a horrible second game of the second set when consecutive double faults contributed to a break of serve. Within eight minutes, Ward led 3-0 and rode a wave of crowd enthusiasm and sketchy play by Pospisil to take that set and then the third one as well.
“I was trying to stay composed and stay focused on my routines,” Pospisil said later about the fallow stretch. “Just tried to hang in there and wait for my opportunities. But I did well to stay positive after the second and third sets which weren’t great from my side.”
As poor as the second and third were, Pospisil was brilliant in the last two sets, outclassing Ward with aggressive play. Particularly in the fifth set, he was clearly a cut above – from the 2-all to 6-all, he won a remarkable 19 points in a row on his serve.
“I was not serving well throughout the match,” he said. “Then I found my rhythm and just started serving really well and picking my spots again. That was key.”
That utter dominance on serve began to wear on Ward, and he finally cracked at 6-all in the fifth set when Pospisil finally broke him. The ultimate point was a badly bungled forehand volley into the net which was an apt counterpoint to Pospisil’s deft volleying – he finished with 24 winners at the net to just six for Ward.
While Pospisil did not exactly explicitly say so, there had to be an element of the partisan but fair crowd (erupting early in the third set above) being responsible for the dramatic drop in his level of play in the second and third sets. After that service break in the second game of the second set, Ward’s supporters upped the decibel level and it seemed to give him a boost and have the opposite effect on Pospisil.
“Obviously, even if you’re playing great tennis it can be a bit of an equalizer if the guy gets some inspiration from that,” Pospisil said referring to the support for Ward. “James is a great player and I knew it would be tough from the beginning but especially with the crowd as well.”
Pospisil was easily the more complete and accomplished player. Ward serve-and-volleyed a grand total of zero times in 146 opportunites while Pospisil forged forward 38 times out of 123.
“The only thing that got easier as the match progressed was spending more and more time on the court so that you’re grooving your strokes,” Pospisil said. “I think we were both playing our best tennis at the end.”
In his media conference, Ward (above) suggested, “a couple of points – 8-6 in the fifth set. If you can tell me there’s a big difference between both of us, I’d love to know it.”
The truth is that the 28-year-old Briton had most of his success when Pospisil became strangely inept in the second and third sets. When he was on his game – serving huge, hitting big, aggressive shots off the ground and closing decisively at the net – he was at a markedly higher level.
He will need that kind of tennis when he takes on No. 24-ranked Viktor Troicki of Serbia in Monday’s round of 16. (It is first match on Court 12 at 11:30 a.m. – 6:30 a.m. EDT in Canada.) Troicki, who beat Rafael Nadal-beater Dustin Brown in four sets on Saturday, and Pospisil have never met. They could have in September 2013, when Canada played Davis Cup in Belgrade, but Troicki was serving a year-long suspension at the time for refusing to take a blood test.
Saturday’s win allowed Pospisil to join Martin Laurendeau (once), Daniel Nestor (once) and Milos Raonic (eight times) as the only Canadians in the Open Era (since 1968) to make it to the sweet 16 at a Grand Slam.
“It’s very special, my first second week of a singles Slam,” he said. “The first time is always the most special and I have incredible memories from playing Wimbledon. It’s my favourite tournament.”
Pospisil has earned 180 ranking points for reaching the round-of-16, something that will certainly provide a cushion when he has to ‘defend’ the 300 ranking points in August that he earned a year ago by making the final of the ATP 500 event in Washington, D.C. If he succeeds in beating Troicki – and possibly setting up a quarter-final versus No. 3 seed Andy Murray – Pospisil would earn 360 points.
About what he was most pleased with after the first week, Pospisil said, “I think mentally being more clutch in more of the important moments and in the fifth set. It’s something I’ve started working on the last couple of weeks…and just to be the best I can be out there. The sky’s the limit if I can just kind of put all the puzzle pieces together. I feel like I have a good game to trouble a lot of these guys – trouble anybody. It’s just about putting it together and I did a great job of that these first three rounds.”
Now, he will savour having Sunday off after plenty of tennis this past week – 14 sets in singles against Vincent Millot, Fabio Fognini and Ward, as well as seven sets in doubles as the third-seeded team with American partner Jack Sock.
As for his plans for Wimbledon’s “silent Sunday” Pospisil said, “I’ve played a lot of matches – singles and doubles – so it will be a nice day off. I’ll just have a light 30-minute hit. (Then) just try to rest, play some guitar?…I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Nestor, Paes into second week
Daniel Nestor and partner Leander Paes reached the Wimbledon doubles third round on Saturday with a 5-7, 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 7-5 win over Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia and Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei.
The Nestor/Paes side rebounded well after dropping the first set.
In the fourth set, trying to put away the match with Nestor serving at 2-all, they saved consecutive break points with good volleying, the first from Nestor and the second from Paes.
Leading 6-5 and with Lu serving at 15-40, the Gabashvili/Lu duo saved the first match point when Paes missed a forehand long but he made up for it on the next point, poaching and putting away a backhand volley.
Paes, only 5-foot-10, immediately rushed over and lifted the 6-foot-3 Nestor in the air in raucous celebration.
“It was a dogfight, those guys played well,” Nestor said about Gabashvili and Lu, “especially because they made a lot of passes that were really tough shots. When Paes was at the net, they were passing him consistently – and that’s not easy to do.”
It was a sunny day, but not nearly as hot as when Nestor played his first-round match on Thursday. “The weather was better,” he said about the conditions.
Summing up his performance, he added, “I played solid but I was getting tired in the fourth.” About him and Paes, the 11th seeds, he added, “we’re starting to gel and do the right things together.”
They will have to continue in that vein when they face No. 8 seeds Austrian Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares of Brazil in the third round.
Robillard-Millette wins thriller
It took place on Court 10 and was first match at 11 a.m., but Charlotte Robillard-Millette’s junior girls 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 victory over Naiktha Bains of Australia still stands up as one of the best matches of the day.
Robillard-Millette, from Blainville, Que., and Bains had endless big-hitting rallies, with neither player giving away an inch of court.
Bains has a terrific inside/out forehand that she consistently ran into the left-handed forehand of Robillard-Millette. Bains, 17, was slightly the harder hitter while Robillard-Millette was a touch more consistent.
Before she went out to serve trailing 5-4 in the second set, Robillard-Millette took a medical time-out and, as is visible in the TV picture above, was treated by the trainer on court.
She started the third set well and led 4-2 before Bains came back and actually led 5-4 and 6-5 – Robillard-Millette holding serve twice and then failing to serve out the match when she had the 7-6 advantage.
But she broke Bains at 7-all as the Aussie’s high-risk hitting led to a few (fatigue?) unforced errors and Robillard-Millette was able to serve out to 15 to end a two-hour and 46-minute marathon.
“I’m a little tired now but it will be nice to have a couple of days rest before my second match,” said the No. 7 seed. “I had a little problem with my hip. I think I did a lot of sliding today and was a little bit unlucky. It should be ok. My leg sort of went in a funny way and it put pressure on my hip. I called for the physio just to loosen it up a bit.
“After the tournament in Roehampton (last week), I felt quite tight in the hips. I think that has something to do with bending lower when you play on grass.
“I’ve found it a little more difficult than I expected, adapting my game to grass in just a couple of days or a couple of matches. I don’t think it’s my best surface so I’m going to have to work on it.
“You’ve got to stay low and that’s not my strength as a tall (5-foot-10) player.”
About the match against slightly-built but power-packed Bains, Robillard-Millette said, “she’s a super player and she played well, really used her strengths. She knows how to play on grass so it was a good match to win.”
In Tuesday’s second round, Robillard-Millette, 16, will play 15-year-old Sofya Zhuk of Russia.
The other Canadian in action on Saturday, Katherine Sebov of Toronto, was beaten 6-2, 6-1 by Tornado Alicia Black of the U.S.
Walking down Somerset Road late Saturday morning on my way to the Gate 16 media entrance, I heard a Wimbledon usher say to someone, “there’s already 12,500 people in the queue, the chances of getting in…” I didn’t hear the rest but it’s not hard to imagine what it was.
The picture here was taken just outside the Wimbledon Underground station at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning before what is probably the busiest day of the fortnight at the All England Club.
The area was packed with people waiting for taxis to take them to the tennis.