Vasek Pospisil has had such a miserable and inscrutable season so far that, in trying to figure out why his ranking has tumbled from No. 39 at the start of the year to its current No. 100, the old Winston Churchill line describing Russia comes to mind: “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
And unlike 2014 when he struggled mightily for the first half of the year with a back problem, he has appeared fit in 2016 but is still just 2-10 since the Miami Open in March.
On Monday he announced a parting of the ways with his coach of almost four years, Frédéric Fontang.
You know it had to be a wrenching split because both men are well-liked and respected on the tour and Pospisil has always been glowing in his praise of the 46-year-old Frenchman. And he and Fontang, an understated but thoughtful guy who ranked as high as No. 59 as a pro and won a title in Palermo, Italy in 1991, seemed eminently compatible.
It is easy to tell that in the statements the two released on Monday.
Pospisil wrote the following on Twitter:
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) August 1, 2016
As for Fontang, despite some fractured English grammar, his statement about the end of their partnership shows the admiration and fondness he has for Pospisil.
— Frédéric Fontang (@FredericFontang) August 1, 2016
Since the beginning of the year, Pospisil is 6-19 and his only real win of note came over No. 23 Ivo Karlovic in the second week of the new season by a 7-6(4), 7-5 score in Auckland.
After a humbling loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the opening round of Wimbledon – a year after he had reached the final eight at the All England Club – Pospisil said, “I’m just not on a good path right now. I’ve been ranked 25 to 50 for three years straight, around that range, looking for that next thing to get me to the Top 20. I was really trying hard to find that thing and where I am is that I went away from some of my strengths and then I lost a little bit of momentum that I built last year.
“I’m playing better than I ever have in singles, especially the last month or so. I can feel it when I’m practicing that I’m a better but I haven’t been able to make that transform to the court the last few weeks.”
His first tournament following Wimbledon, the CITI Open in Washington. D.C. two weeks ago, had to be downer for the 26-year-old from Vancouver. He had the apparent good fortune to draw 27-year-old Yuichi Sugita of Japan who was ranked No. 107. That should have been a confidence-building win and things looked good after he won the first set 6-1. But it didn’t last. The wiry Japanese, whose best career ranking was No. 97 earlier this year, came back to beat him 1-6, 6-2, 7-6(4).
There had been rumblings that Pospisil’s dismal results would lead to a coaching change. So it’s really no surprise it came after he beat Jeremy Chardy 7-6(3) ret. (foot) in the first round of Rogers Cup last week before losing 7-6(6), 6-0 to Gael Monfils. At set point for him ahead 6-5 in the first-set tiebreak against the No. 14-ranked Frenchman, Pospisil totally miss-hit a forehand way out of the court. It had to be mystifying for him to misfire so badly in such a pressure situation. Then, after Monfils finished off the set, there was a rain delay and Pospisil faded when play resumed in the second, losing it to love.
“(I) didn’t do a good job after that first set to calm down,” he said later. “I felt frustration, just kind of bottled up six months of frustration kind of erupted in that second set. That was tough. I was playing pretty well, and then gave way at the end of that first set. I had opportunities to win that. Then the second set was tough – it just kind of felt it was getting away from me very quickly.”
That certainly sounds like a head problem, something that may be fixed by a different voice coming from a new coach. It’s a maxim of team sports that you can’t change the team so you change the coach. In this case, while Fontang is probably an innocent victim, hooking up with a new coach might help and get the 26-year-old Pospisil back on the track that took him to a career high ranking of No. 25 in January 2014.
“Almost every year there’s a moment when you feel like you’re going to start playing well,” Pospisil said at Wimbledon, “and I feel like that’s coming up soon. I still have four or five tournaments where I’ll be in, because of my ranking…Rogers Cup and Cincinnati and US Open…where I can make some ground up.”
Those tournaments are dwindling to a precious few and he has 160 points to defend between now and the US Open – with no ranking points available when he plays the upcoming Olympic singles event. If he doesn’t get a win or two in Cincinnati after the Olympics, or possibly the week later if he was to play the ATP 250 in Winston-Salem, N.C., his ranking could drop to about No. 130.
At least he will start the US Open with a blank slate after an unfortunate first-round loss – 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(0), 6-0, 6-1 – a year ago when he suffered from mid-match cramps against No. 52-ranked Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria.
It’s hard to say who might be the new coach. Maybe someone with more of a firebrand, aggressive style might help to shake him up and kick-start a player widely admired for his well-rounded game and athletic ability.
While Pospisil has not had the success of his more highly-ranked countryman Milos Raonic, he has never lacked for supporters who enjoy both his tennis and his engaging personality. It would be a great loss for the sport in general if he doesn’t start playing the way many believe he can.
He’s still a force in doubles where he shows almost none of the lack of confidence that manifests itself when he steps on the singles court.
Mainly Vasek Pospisil fans want to believe that, when it comes to their man, anything is still possible.
Rogers Cup rear-view
In the absence of Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was the saviour of the 2016 Rogers Cup. His 6-3, 7-5 victory over Kei Nishikori in the final was not quite the master class he has conducted at times over the past few years, but it was still the sublime Serb on his game and showing the Sobeys Stadium faithful how resilient he can be after struggling at times in the first three rounds.
The Djokovic enthusiasm was even evident in the annual ball hockey game that took over Centre Court on the Sunday before the tournament began. Above, even though he claimed to have never played any kind of hockey, he makes a pretty aggressive defensive move to try to stop Russian tennis player Andrey Kuznetsov.
The best match of last week’s two Rogers Cups event was probably Genie Bouchard’s 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(3) win over Lucie Safarova of Czech Republic in the first round in Montreal. Both players were going for their shots right up until the end with the up tempo rallies and scoreline drama thrilling STADE IGA fans until Bouchard ran off seven points in a row to win after trailing 3-0 in the final-set tiebreak.
Even though she suffered a tough 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 121-ranked qualifier Kristina Kucova of Slovakia in the third round in a match that she seemingly had under control up a set and 4-3 in the second, Bouchard’s wins over Safarova and Dominka Cibulkova, also of Slovakia, went a long way to erasing the nightmare memory of her 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 first-round loss to No. 113-ranked qualifier Shelby Rogers of the U.S. two years ago in Montreal. That came on the heels of her runner-up finish at Wimbledon just weeks earlier.
The tennis event at the Rio Olympics gets under way on Saturday, August 6th.
There will be 64-player draws in the men’s and women’s singles and 32-player draws in the two doubles events.
The mixed doubles competition is just 16 teams, made up of players already in either the singles and/or doubles – with 12 direct entries and four teams selected by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
Gooooo Canada!!! https://t.co/aSqK1lXPJl
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) August 2, 2016
Canada will be represented at the Games by Genie Bouchard in singles and in doubles with Gabriela Dabrowski (on left in picture at top) and Vasek Pospisil in singles and doubles with Daniel Nestor.
Bouchard and Pospisil may have a chance to play the mixed doubles but the on-site sign-in for mixed doubles is not until Tuesday the 9th of August, which is the fourth day of the event. The draws will be done on Thursday, August 4th.
The women’s final and the men’s doubles final will be on Saturday the 13th of August with the men’s final, the women’s doubles final and the mixed doubles final on Sunday the 14th.
Among the men’s players absent from the Olympics are Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Dominic Thiem, John Isner, Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, Ernests Gulbis, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic. Simona Halep is the most prominent female player not taking part.
The ITF basically selects wild cards taking into consideration various regions of the world and players who would have special claim to be in the Games.
Among those benefitting from special entry are 30-year-old Peng Shaui (ranked No. 264 ) of China and 18-year-old Croat Ana Konjuh (No. 93) in the women’s event. In the men’s competitions, the almost forgotten Jerzy Janowicz of Poland (No. 174) is in the singles draw and Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol of Czech Republic have been awarded a spot in the doubles draw.
Of interest to Canadians will be the Chilean doubles team of Julio Peralta and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo who have received special entry. Canada faces Chile in a Davis Cup World Group Play-off to be held in Halifax from September 16-18.
Denis Shapovalov, the 17-year-old sensation of Rogers Cup last week, plays his first match at the Challenger Banque Nationale in Granby, Que., on Tuesday evening. He will take on No. 177-ranked Luke Saville of Australia at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) and the match should be live-streamed on the ATP World Tour website at – http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/atp-challenger-tour – by clicking on “live matches.”
The marquee match-up will feature the 2011 Wimbledon boys winner, Saville, 22, against the reigning Wimbledon boys champion Shapovalov.
Seen in the picture at the top here are IMG agent Olivier van Lindonk (turquoise cap) and 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek (arms folded) checking out Shapovalov at the All England Club last month.
On Monday night in Granby, 15-year Félix Auger-Aliassime played his first-round match and was beaten 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 by Sekou Bangoura. The 24-year-old American ranks No. 178 while Auger-Alassime is No. 779.
It got very hot and humid during the first few days of the 2016 Rogers Cup. This mother and her kids used patriotic headgear to protect themselves from the sun.