By Mike McIntyre
Vasek Pospisil's career just took a meteoric rise thanks in part to a match he barely even had to play. The twenty-three year old Canadian, who has been working his tail off over the past couple of weeks, moved into the semi-finals of his first Masters 1000 event on the ATP World Tour when his opponent Nikolay Davydenko retired trailing 0-3 in the first set. Davydenko was suffering from a case of bronchitis, not pospisilitis, and was unable to breathe properly enough to continue the match.
Speaking about the retirement after the match, Pospisil admitted that it came at a good time for him as he too was dealing with his share of aches and pains.
"It came at a perfect time to have a bit of a rest," he said. "Even those three games, I was really trying to catch my breath. Felt like I had a bit of sore legs, making me a little bit tired. So it came at a great time."
Pospisil came into the tournament ranked a career-high 71st in the world but will now see some major movement up the rankings. By making the quarter-finals he was guaranteed to be boosted to approximately 57th in the world according to ATP stats guru Greg Sharko. By making the semis he will now move to around 40th and could come awfully close to the top thirty in the world should he continue winning. Talk about a week of tennis that will change your life forever.
While tennis fans in Canada have come to appreciate Pospisil's role on their Davis Cup squad over the past couple of years, those outside of the country likely aren't too familiar with what he brings to the table or has accomplished up to this point in his young career. Here's a quick recap.
Pospisil, who hails from Vernon, British Columbia, first popped up on the ATP rankings in March 2007 at the age of 16. Pospisil was playing futures tournaments that year but would get his first taste of the big leagues in 2008 while going through qualifying at the Rogers Cup. It was more futures in 2009 where Pospisil saw his ranking crack the top 1000 in the world for the first time. At the end of 2009 is when he showed the first signs of consistent accomplishment as a pro when he won four futures tournaments in-a-row and vaulted into the top 400 in the rankings.
In 2010 he would win a couple of more futures events and enter the qualifying of a few ATP tournaments. Canadian tennis fans likely first noticed Pospisil in doubles action at the Rogers Cup that summer where he partnered with Milos Raonic to defeat the mega-star tandem of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal by a score of 10-8 in a champions tiebreak.
A year later in 2011 he would be playing challenger events instead of futures which was a step up and would also win one round of qualifying at a little tournament called Wimbledon that you may have heard of. Pospisil made his Davis Cup debut that year going 1-1 in a tie against Ecuador. He was given his first wildcard into the Rogers Cup and surprisingly defeated veteran ATP player Juan Ignacio Chela in the opening round before falling to his idol Roger Federer in the second round. The 5-7, 3-6 scoreline was respectable however and gave Pospisil the confidence to know that he could handle himself at this level. He used that confidence to win all three qualifying matches at the U.S. Open later that summer and then defeated Lukas Rosol in the first round before falling to Feliciano Lopez. Pospisil's amazing break-out year was not over yet as he would play the hero for Team Canada in their Davis Cup tie against Israel, winning twice in singles and once in doubles to help them advance back into the world group where they remain today.
In 2012, Pospisil would play in his first Masters 1000 event apart from the Rogers Cup which was in Indian Wells. He would break into the top 100 in the world in April and represent Canada in the London Olympics where he lost to David Ferrer in his opening match.
That brings us to this year where Pospisil started ranked just inside the top 130 in the world but struggled out of the gates and let a two set lead slip away in his singles match of the quarter-final Davis Cup tie against Italy's Andreas Seppi. In April he got close to the top hundred again with a tournament win in South Africa and then he qualified for his first French Open where he lost 8-6 in the fifth set against clay court vet Horacio Zeballos. You got the sense however that Pospisil was starting to knock at the door of bigger or at least more consistent success when he won the opening round at Wimbledon as well and then lost another tight five set match to established pro Mikhail Youzhny. Last week at a challenger event in Vancouver Pospisil would win the title bringing as much confidence as he possibly could into the Rogers Cup where we stand today.
Now with impressive wins over big-time players like John Isner, Radek Stepanek, Tomas Berdych and Davydenko today, he amazingly finds himself on the verge of the finals of Canada's biggest event, the Rogers Cup and it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Pospisil's gigantic smiles after his victories this week reveal a guy who is just loving every unpredictable moment. His comments after his matches display an innocence that is hard not to like as well. For example when asked about the $135,000 he has made thus far in Montreal, Pospisil revealed, "Yeah, I had no idea how much I made until somebody told me in the TV booth. I was like, Oh, really? Wow!"Wow indeed.
Later when asked what he would have said if someone had told him before the event that he'd be in the semi-finals he was honest in replying, "That they're probably crazy, to make the semifinals here (laughter). Winning in Vancouver was something I wanted to do. I knew I had a realistic shot of doing that in front of my friends and family. This is a little bit of a different situation, coming in as a wild card, playing against guys that I don't get to play with too often. Yeah, definitely would think they lost their minds a little."
Pospisil will now face friend and Davis Cup teammate Raonic who earned a tough three set win against Ernests Gulbis today. Canadian tennis fans will get a match-up that could only have been dreamed about coming into the tournament. The vibe in Montreal should be an interesting one tomorrow as fans might be confused as to where they should direct their encouragement.
Asked about the possibility of playing Milos before his match against Gulbis had ended, Pospisil said that it would be an, "Exciting match. Two Canadians in the semifinal, one guaranteed to be in the final. Historic moment for tennis in Canada...I think it would be more special if it was Milos for the crowd, the tournament and everybody."
Pospisil and Raonic have faced each other four times before but not in a regular ATP match. The record stands at 3-1 in favour of Pospisil, although their last meeting was back in 2010 before Milos really became Milos. Both will be dealing with their own respective hindrances, as Raonic felt numbness in his right shoulder two nights ago against Del Potro and Pospisil has been battling fatigue since arriving from Vancouver.
While Raonic will be considered the favourite on paper due to his more noticeable rise into the top twenty of the men's game, Pospisil knows his opponent's game inside and out and both men are playing in their first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, so nerves could affect either one. While Pospisil's serve isn't at the same level of ferociousness as Raonic's, it is still quite a weapon and better than your average player on tour. Pospisil moves better than Raonic and is just as comfortable at net given all the play he's accumulated alongside Daniel Nestor.
With his win already this week over a huge server like Isner, I must admit I like Pospisil's chances at defying all the odds to advance to the finals. I just re-read the last sentence several times as I still cannot believe that this is in fact the reality we are facing for Sunday. It truly is a special time for Canadian tennis.
Check back with us this weekend for more news and analysis from Montreal and the WTA tournament in Toronto. You can follow us on Twitter as well for regular updates.