New Player Council member Pospisil wants to be a force for change

Vasek Pospisil, elected to the ATP Player Council for the first time at Wimbledon, is determined to make a difference.

And the 28-year-old Canadian has a clear idea of what he wants to focus on, as the new council meets for the first time at the US Open.

The first priority would be to restructure the council so that the players themselves have more significant influence on the decisions that affect them.

And the second, which flows from the first, is to work to get the players a more equitable slice of the revenue pie.

It all began nearly a year ago, at the mandatory player meeting at the US Open.

The hot topic, then as now, was prize money.

“Just watching their presentation to the players. Every time you sit through one, you can kind of see how they bend the numbers and they don’t give you any real information. They just kind of try to keep the herd moving, not asking any questions,” Pospisil told Tennis.Life in an extensive interview from his hometown of Vancouver, where he is the top seed at the $100,000 men’s ATP Challenger event.

“At one point I was just tired of the misinformation, and of them playing the political game and trying to keep us completely uninformed. I was agitated at how I felt they underestimated completely – almost mockingly – the intelligence of the tennis players. … Just the fact that this issue has been discussed for so long, and we haven’t really made any significant strides.” he added.

Pospisil said after nearly a decade on Tour, he realized he still was basically in the dark about some of the biggest issues affecting his livelihood. From that came the impetus to get involved not only to become more educated personally, but because he felt he could make a difference for his fellow players.

What he believes is that the players aren’t getting their fair share.

It’s not about the bottom line, which is significant by any measure. 

To Pospisil, it’s about what the players receive relative to how much revenue is generated by their work. And he’s willing to devote considerable time and energy towards getting the players what he feels they deserve.

From Challenger, to ATP events, to Slams

“I feel I can do a really good job in representing all of the players because even in recent years, I’ve been at every level. I’ve been a top doubles player. I’ve been a top-30 singles player. Even now I’ve been playing Challengers, ATPs, Slams, I’ve been playing everything the last couple of years. I’ve been in touch with all levels of the sport, and doubles,” Pospisil said.

Pospisil

“You need somebody who’s determined to effect change. Obviously there’s a learning curve I’ll have to go through, but I’m confident that I’ll adapt quickly. I really want to make changes. Tennis careers are short. And there’s nothing I dislike more than when people are taken advantage of – especially if I’m one of them. Fairness is a very important thing to me, a principle I live by. We as players are getting taken advantage of.”

A force for change

As his term begins at the upcoming US Open, Pospisil has clear objectives he wants to work towards

*Work on restructuring the Player Council and the voting process so that the players have more of a say in the issues that concern them.

*Work on getting the players a fair share of the revenues – particularly from the ever expanding and ever more lucrative Grand Slams. Not a nice, tidy and very PR-friendly increase every year, but a legitimate share of those annually-increasing revenues that better reflects the importance of the players’ efforts in making those events the financial windfalls they are.

*Effort to create a more cooperative atmosphere with the ITF so that both sides can work towards a new Davis Cup that will work for everyone – notably the top players, whose participation is crucial.

*Work to streamline the council procedures so that various players will focus on the agenda items that most affect them and bring that information back to meetings, rather than everyone on the council opining and trying to tackle the various minutiae. That way, the players’ scarce free time is more efficiently utilized.

*Work to ensure that the new generation is more educated, and informed than he has been through his first 10 years. “The players have no idea. They only hear about the injustices. But they don’t now why, or from where. They need to be informed, and then the tournaments will have a little more pressure,” he said.

Pospisil, presidential material?

Pospisil

Freshly minted as a rookie member on the Player Council, Pospisil hadn’t entertained the notion of running for president.

The vote for both president and vice-president will take place at the US Open in a few weeks.

But when asked by Tennis.Life if it was an idea that intrigued him, Pospisil gave it some thought.

“Honestly, It’s not something I am expecting but it would be an honor If I were to get elected by my fellow council members. I would embrace the position and accept it with enthusiasm,” he said. “These are exciting times for tennis and I would be fully committed to making real positive changes. I’m confident that if I were to be put in such a position that I would learn and adapt quickly and would dedicate time and effort to come up with unique strategies and ideas to benefit the players of the ATP Tour.

“Most importantly, I would never deviate from the core principles that I live by, and would always do what I believe is best for the players and our Tour – even when uncomfortable or difficult decisions would need to be made,” he added.

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There are significant issues at the forefront of the men’s game right now.

Here are some of them, and Pospisil’s take on them.

A fair share of the revenue pie

At best, at the Grand Slams, some seven percent of the revenues are flowing back to the male players. At Wimbledon, it might be even less than that.

Just as a basic comparison, the players in the National Hockey League get 50 per cent of team revenues.

“We’re not really getting much of a prize money increase, compared to how much more these Grand Slam events are making. I just kind of got sick and tired of it. … My career is short – everyone’s career is short – and I felt like I had to take matters into my own hands,” he said. “Not that the council has done a bad job. Not at all; they’ve been fighting vey hard. But in my opinion there are better ways, more powerful ways to go about it.”

Pospisil
As Wimbledon builds its brand worldwide and increases its revenues exponentially, Pospisil feels the product – the players – behind that growth isn’t being adequately compensated.

The common response from the majors when talking about sharing the wealth is that they put those revenues back into the game to grow it, which benefits everyone.

The historical foundation on which tennis federations were built is that of an amateur game with modest revenues.

Still today, most federations remain nominally non-profit, despite the hundreds of millions they generate every year.  And those national federations run all four Grand Slam events.

“That’s all great. But we have a business to run, too. So where do we get the money to invest in our business? We’re both the employees and the product at these events, if you really look at it. They’re just the management,” Pospisil said.

“We’ve worked our whole lives to create this product – which is us, playing at a high level, that we then give to these events. And they’re exploiting it, taking advantage of it. Giving back seven per cent is an absolute joke because without the players, what are these events? Tennis is really booming now. It’s great that it’s doing so well. But our paycheque is essentially the same.”

The quest for leverage

Pospisil is not the first player to point out that the way the current Player Council structure makes it almost impossible to effect change – and certainly not in short order.

Novak Djokovic, who has been president the last three years and was just re-elected  for another term, alluded to the same challenges during a press conference last week at the Rogers Cup.

“The way the system works is that if there are any hot topics or major issues, and the (ATP Board) vote comes in at 3-3 (three board members represent the players, and three represent the tournaments and other interested parties), the CEO has to come in and cast the deciding vote. And he has to to be careful, or he could lose his job by upsetting the opposing side,” Pospisil said.

“We need to have a say in being able to make any changes. It takes way too much energy to change the smallest thing. And the tournaments are never going to really be on the players’ side on anything substantial or significant,” he said. “It’s a business, though. I understand that. Why would you want to be less profitable, just for the sake of being less profitable?”

For all practical purposes, the current council structure essentially means the status quo can be maintained on the tournament side.

Pospisil

Communication disconnect

And the disconnect between the ATP Tour and the International Tennis Federation, which oversees the Grand Slams, means there’s no effective way to advocate with them to be more equitable.

Worse, the ATP players struggle to arm themselves with the necessary information – the straight scoop on revenues– to find out precisely how vast the inequities are.

Armed with that data, better knowing the value they bring to the tournaments, the players could be more proactive and be less at a disadvantage.

The leverage they do have and are not currently taking advantage of is that without them – as a collective  – there are no tournaments.

“They would lose so much money on the event and the optics and consequences of that would do the sport is terrible,” Pospisil said. “So they’re not going to let that happen. They’ll at least come to some sort of a compromise.”

The optics of prize money – a PR battle

Year after year, the Grand Slams battle for prize-money supremacy amongst themselves. And they do it in a very clever way, emphasizing the increase over the previous year’s purse (a vastly different calculation than an increase proportional to the tournaments’ ever-increasing revenues).

Pospisil
Doubles partner Pablo Andujar listens intently as the two discuss strategy at the BNP Paribas Open.

Any overtures the players make about getting more, in that context, typically are greeted with disdain by fans who earn a fraction of what a top player earns – but whose work-related expenses also are a fraction of what the players invest in their careers.

But most of the players on the ATP Tour don’t earn what those select few at the top bring home.

“It’s amazing how easily you can twist something in a way that’s to your advantage. It makes it difficult for us to make a case, because all anyone ever remembers is ‘Oh my goodness, the winner gets this much for winning ($3.8 million at the US Open this year), and they’re asking for more money? Look at these spoiled tennis players,’ ” Pospisil said.

“But in reality, half the people in the draw lose in the first round. And these are half of the best 100 in the world at their job. They get $50,000, which seems like a great cheque for one week, when you look at it. It would be amazing if every week you made $50,000. But that’s only four tournaments a year, we have a full team to pay for all year,” he added.

Pospisil, who doesn’t come from a posh background, realizes that’s a tough sell. But he said there’s another way to look at it.

“If you’re one of, say, the top 100 lawyers in the world, would you think that’s fair pay? And this isn’t your average job; you’re a professional tennis player in an industry that is making billions of dollars,” he said. “When you put that into perspective a little bit, you hope the fans can at least appreciate that given the level of success it requires, the amount of work, the money invested, the number of years it takes, everything that goes into make it at that level – even without knowing about all the expenses – that we’re underpaid.”

Get your share, and then share the wealth

Pospisil understands that the membership he will be representing runs the gamut from the Federers and Djokovics, to the players jumping back and forth from the Challengers to the ATP Tour who are barely eking out a living.

But he feels that if the players’ pot grows as it should, there will be more than enough to keep the top players happy – with plenty left over to ensure that more players can make a decent living.

Pospisil
Pospisil poses with a group of fans who cheered him on vociferously as he posted his first career five-set comeback win against Paolo Lorenzi at the Australian Open.

Those Slam revenue numbers are out there. The players see them. And they’re feeling a little hard done by at the moment. But if the players can get a fairer share, Pospisil feels as though the trickle-down effect will be organic.

“Once we get the number we deserve, then we can put our energy towards redistributing it the right way. And we should have at least a large say on how this money is distributed. … Okay, maybe it’s a little too top heavy, so maybe we have to be smarter. Give to the Challengers. Because we need to support the whole system, where the next generations will come from, and not just the very top.

“It will be so much easier to then make the whole sport thrive, so that people can actually make a decent living. Because there’ s no way, in a business that’s making so much money – hundreds of millions at every Slam event, so much money going around – that you should be 150 in the world at something that’s so difficult to do and barely getting by. That’s ridiculous.”

The Davis Cup tug of war

Pospisil
From the beginning of his career, Pospisil has been a stalwart of the Canadian Davis Cup team, often playing both singles and doubles and carrying the load.

Beyond the revenue distribution and council restructuring, Pospisil has an eye on the proposed changes to Davis Cup.

And as a player who has steadfastly represented his country – sometimes bringing a tie home to Canada singlehandedly – his fondness for the event is balanced with an awareness that it needs to change.

But the way the ITF has gone about it, Pospisil says, has not been good for anyone.

“We need to work together. Everybody seems to have a different agenda, a different angle on this. There’s no doubt that Davis Cup needs to be reformed. There’s no argument there. But while there are so many things that need to be changed, there are a lot of things that are really good about it,” Pospisil said.

“The Player Council, the ATP were more than happy to work with the ITF and come up with something that would benefit everyone. The way it’s done now, that’s just not possible,” he said. “They are also proposing it to be at the end of the year after the Masters. And the year is too long as it is. What we need from Davis Cup is to have the big players playing, and making the year longer isn’t going to help that.”

Pospisil

Pospisil said it feels as though the ITF just sort of threw the Davis Cup revamp plan together, after word leaked out about a potential rival in the proposed ATP-run event, The World Team Cup.

“I love Davis Cup, I love to play for my country. And I think most players are in the same boat. Who isn’t a proud patriot and proud to represent their country? But they’re putting things on our plate and we’re forced to swallow them down, without even knowing what we’re eating.”

“If you’re going to completely re-create an event as prestigious, and with a much history as the Davis Cup, you’d better put a lot of thought behind it and make sure what you’re proposing is the absolutely best structure for everybody,” he said.

Video: Backhand a work in progress for Pospisil

TORONTO – On Friday, a few days before a tough first-round encounter against Borna Coric at the Rogers Cup, Canadian Vasek Pospisil was out working his backhand.

It’s definitely a work in progress, even though there’s improvement since the beginning of the season with the Canadian’s new coaching set up.

But it’s the side that opponents tend to pick on and that the 28-year-old himself seems to lack confidence in at times, especially during key moments.

He could take a look over the net at coach Rainer Schuettler and see a darn good one – still.

Schuettler, 42, retired after the 2012 Australian Open. As you can see below, the strokes are still pretty sweet. He used that backhand to reach a career-best No. 4 in the world at exactly the same age Pospisil is now.

Different times, different field. But it’s the key to Pospisil getting his ranking back up to where it should be.

Here’s what it looked like.

 

 

Rogers Cup pics: Friday, Aug. 3, 2018

TORONTO – Some of the players were preparing for the qualifying. But most of the players practicing in the late afternoon on Friday were still a few days away from their first-round matches in the main draw.

Diego Schwartzman (The No. 11 seed, who plays unseeded Kyle Edmund) and David Ferrer (who plays a qualifier or special exempt) took the court together.

Dominic Thiem (Bye, then Tsitsipas or Dzumhur) was on the stadium court. While Pierre-Hugues Herbert (the No. 7 seed in the qualifying, vs. Hubert Hurkacz) practiced with doubles partner Nicolas Mahut (No. 12 Tim Smyczek).

Félix Auger-Aliassime had a hit with Grigor Dimitrov, then stayed behind to hit some more serves.

Also on court was Marco Cecchinato, who will face Frances Tiafoe in the first round of the main draw.

Vasek Pospisil practiced with coach Rainer Schuettler. The Canadian wild card drew Borna Coric in the first round. Not an easy task under any circumstances. But Coric has already been here so long, he practically has stock in the place.

Here are a few pics.

Canadians bloom in California desert

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The California desert has for years been a place where Canadian tennis players bloom in winter.

The sheer number of snow birds ensure big-time support at the BNP Paribas Open no matter the Canadian, no matter the opponent. 

But when 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime faced 27-year-old Vasek Pospisil before a packed Stadium Court 2 Friday night, the crowd was as tense as the two players. It was as though rooting for one meant rooting against the other. 

And of course you know how Canadian are so polite and all.

It was a conflicted group although in the end, they got behind the fresh face, the up-and-coming teenager, who defeated Pospisil 6-2, 7-6 (4) to reach the second round.

Here’s what it looked like.

More “firsts” for Felix

Auger-Aliassime is the first player born in the 2000s (Aug. 8, 2000 to be exact) to win a main-draw match on the ATP Tour. He is the youngest to win one since his good friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov did it against Nick Kyrgios in the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2016.

And he’s the youngest to do it at the BNP Paribas Open in nearly 30 years, since Michael Chang (17 years, one month) did it in 1989.

“This was a bit more unexpected, I think, than the other “firsts” that I’ve known over the last two or three years, I was coming from the qualifying, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for my results. I had some expectations about my attitude, about the way I wanted to play. And I think that was really something that helped tonight. I was able to sort of put the emotions aside, even if  wasn’t easy, and concentrate on my game, and it paid off in end,” Auger-Aliassime said. 

The courts here – generally acknowledged by the players as being among the slowest, if not the slowest, on Tour – suit Auger-Aliassime far more than they do Pospisil, who can do significant damage on faster courts.

“It was always going to be tough, especially here. He’s very physical, and the courts are the slowest of the year for sure. He’s extremely fit. I knew I had to play well to win, and I didn’t do that. But again, credit to him. It was tricky, windy, and he handled it better than me,” Pospisil said.  “I struggled through the qualifying mentally a little bit, physically. I actually felt better (Friday), both physically and mentally, more fresh. But it was just tough, Felix played well, and conditions were tough.”

Pospisil has just jumped into the main draw at the next Masters 1000 in Miami, after a few withdrawals. But first, he’ll head to scenic Drummondville, Que., about an hour from Montreal, to play a $75,000 Challenger there next week.

Canadian colors in the desert

bloom

Auger-Aliassime said it felt like Davis Cup in California when he pulled off a comeback victory in the qualifying against Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos Wednesday to reach the main draw.

But the support was just as fervent when he played an American, Bjorn Fratangelo, in the first qualifying round the previous day.

Polansky gets rock-star treatment

Peter Polansky, who navigates around the fringes of relative obscurity most of the year, was buoyed by a jubilant crowd when he defeated Marius Copil of Romania in a first-round match Thursday.

It was a match Polansky called the “craziest” of his career, a victory that went 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker and was a gruelling test of both body and nerve.

Polansky has had too many heartbreaking losses to count in similar matches, which seemed to be going his way until the very, very end. This one, he pulled off to reach the second round. He will play No. 20 seed Adrian Mannarino of France Saturday.

Here’s how it looked against Copil.

Polansky had near-uninimous support against Copil. On Friday, with Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, the crowd was torn.

“The energy was different compared to my final round of qualifying. I heard encouragement for Vasek, and I heard it for me. But it stayed very respectful. I think the people were just happy to see two Canadians perform in such a beautiful stadium, and I think they were happy for me when I won in the end,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I expect them to be there for the next match as well.”

Another battle of Canada next up

The “next” one for Auger-Aliassime is against a player he considers one of his idols, longtime top Canadian male Milos Raonic.

Raonic is not in the best quadrant of his career, after multiple injuries cut short his 2017 season. Those injuries also are having their effect on 2018 in terms of the lack of practice and match play.

Still, even if his movement isn’t back to where it was, Raonic’s serve remains a formidable weapon.

As Auger-Aliassime coach Frédéric Fontang put it, it will come down to the return.

Auger-Aliassime also has the advantage of already having had four matches on the Indian Wells courts – not to mention nearly a full week of intense practice.

Raonic, who squeezed in as the No. 32 seed, had a first-round bye. This will be his first match since he lost in the second round of the Delray Beach event a few weeks ago.

“I think Felix can give him trouble here, honestly. He has a great game for these conditions. He’s very physical. He moves well … It’s very tough to create anything and hit winners, and he can really hang physically,” Pospisil said. “So I think, serving well, he can definitely give Milos some trouble Especially if he does like he did against me – swinging free, is confident and has nothing to lose. Then maybe he has a chance to win.”

Little Félix was in awe

Three summers ago, Auger-Aliassime warmed up Raonic ahead of his match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He had turned 15 just a few days before. Raonic was about to face big-serving Ivo Karlovic in his first match of the tournament.

The kid was the jinx; Raonic, who had reached the final the previous time the event had been held in Montreal in 2013, lost in two tiebreaks.

Here’s some vintage video of that warmup session.

Auger-Aliassime is a lot taller now – his hair is a lot taller, too. His serve is a lot harder. He has since signed a deal with Nike, so his kits are fancier.

And he’s done enough on the tennis court that he won’t be quite as in awe of Raonic, the former No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist.

Raonic reached the Indian Wells final the last time he played it, in 2016.

“Everything’s possible in sport. You never know. We saw with Denis (Shapovalov) last year at the Rogers Cup,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“It’s unbelievable for me to be able to play Milos in the second round. Just two or three years ago I was warming him up, he was sort of my idol. It was like, ‘Wow, Milos is right there’. Now, to play him in the second round of a Masters 1000 is incredible.

“I’ll let the emotions in a little bit (from Friday’s victory), and then I’ll start preparing for Sunday.”

Looking ahead

Auger-Aliassime also is entered in next week’s Challenger, although if he does manage to defeat Raonic, his entry would automatically be rescinded.

Even if he doesn’t, the teenager may pass on it after all the tennis and emotions of the past week. Coach Fontang said it’s something they would discuss, when the time comes.

As with Pospisil in the main draw, Auger-Aliassime just squeezed into the Miami qualifying in recent days, after a few withdrawals. 

His ranking for that entry list was No. 166. 

Right now, it’s actually lower than that, by nearly 10 spots, despite his efforts in the desert. Auger-Aliassime has 56 points coming off his rankings resumé the next two weeks because a year ago, he won a Futures event in Canada and then reached the semifinals of that Drummondville Challenger.

The difference, of course, is that at the ATP level, he can earn big chunks of points quickly, if he can win matches. It would take a win over Raonic to get him back to where he is this week.

Canada Day in Budapest (and Antalya)

The tennis nation of Canada had an excellent day on Sunday.

And the more well-known names – Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, Denis Bouchard – weren’t even involved.

On the down side, the understaffed Fed Cup team was no match for Romania in Cluj-Napoca over the weekend. Carol Zhao, Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov – all but Andreescu making their singles debuts at the World Group level – won just one set in three matches. 

The Canadians did salvage a point in the dead doubles rubber on Sunday.

But everywhere else on Planet Tennis Canada, there was hardware.

First up on Sunday was Rebecca Marino, who is returning to pro tennis after a five-year absence.

The 27-year-old followed up her victory at a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in Turkey last week with another title on Sunday, in a similar event.

Marino won three qualifying matches in the first title run. So she has now gone 13-0 in her return (including one walkover) and hasn’t lost a set.

Pospisil wins second straight

Later Sunday, Marino’s fellow British Columbia native Vasek Pospisil won his second straight title on the Challenger circuit.

Budapest
Flashback: Vasek Pospisil as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Pospisil won the Open de Rennes two weeks ago without dropping a set.

In between came the four-set loss to Borna Coric of Croatia in Davis Cup, and some physical woes.

But Pospisil bounced back in Budapest, managing to put together five victories even if he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent.

He won this title after getting through back-to-back-to-back three-set matches in three days in the final rounds.

In the final, he defeated promising teenager Nicola Kuhn 76 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

Kuhn returned to court a little while later, and helped Canada to a third trophy on Sunday.

Budapest
Flashback: Auger-Aliassime at age 14, in Sept. 2014. Not so long ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He and fellow 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime upset the No. 1 seeds, Marin and Tomislav Draganja of Croatia, 2-6, 6-2, 11-9 to win the doubles title.

The kids had a roller-coaster ride in the match tiebreak. They were up 6-2 and serving. Suddenly, they were down 7-6, with the Croatian brothers about to serve the next two points.

But they took both those points, and finally converted on their third match point.

Auger-Aliassime was immediately headed to the big tournament in Rotterdam, where he has a wild card and will make his ATP Tour main-draw debut against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

Rising rankings

When the 24 ranking points she has earned over the last two weeks finally hit the computer, Marino’s ranking will have gone from zero – or infinity, depending on how you look at it – to approximately No. 732.

Budapest
Flashback: Rebecca Marino as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

(A few years ago, before players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin made comebacks, you needed to have earned points in three tournaments before you could get a WTA Tour ranking. That was amended.

Now, if you earn 10 points in any one tournament, you qualify. But points from $15,000 ITF tournaments take a minimum of one extra week to show up).

Pospisil’s singles ranking of No. 85 might, at best, move him up one spot because of the points he was defending from the San Francisco Challenger a year ago. But on the plus side, he didn’t lose any ground.

Pospisil would have made the Rotterdam qualifying, and given himself a chance to earn more. But his success in Budapest meant he couldn’t get there in time.

Auger-Aliassime’s doubles ranking will vault from No 1092 to inside the top 500. He’s a fine modern-classic doubles player (a junior US Open doubles champion with fellow Canadian Shapovalov when he was just 15). He just hasn’t played much.

Pospisil, Mannarino last-minute Davis Cup subs

No doubt Canadian Vasek Pospisil had prepared himself to kick off Canada’s Davis Cup tie against Croatia in singles – just in case.

The 27-year-old was only listed for the Saturday doubles with Daniel Nestor. But on Friday he was called upon to do what he has done so many times for his country: double-duty in singles and doubles. 

He replaces Peter Polansky in the lineup.

Via Tennis Canada, here’s the explanation from new Canadian captain Frank Dancevic.

“Peter had an elbow injury when he arrived in Osijek. At first, the pain was tolerable but kept getting worse as the week was progressing. He did a few tests yesterday and the doctor and I thought it would be best for him not to play. I was not confident that he would be able to last if the match would have gone to 5 sets.”

Mannarino makes debut

Mannarino

Polansky isn’t the only last-minute casualty as Friday’s first-round ties got underway in eight different countries.

No. 1 French player Lucas Pouille also was a late scratch because of a stiff neck.

He is replaced by lefty Adrian Mannarino, who will make his Davis Cup debut at age 29 for the reigning champions. He just got the call from captain Yannick Noah on Thursday, after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bowed out just before the draw because of a reported knee issue.

Mannarino is a bonus player for the French, as the rosters were expanded to five players for this 2018 season. To have enough depth that your third singles option is ranked No. 25 in the world is a luxury most countries can only dream of.

The other options would have been to have either Nicholas Mahut or Pierre-Hugues Herbert – standout doubles players and capable singles players – fill in.

Two of the country’s Davis Cup stalwarts, Gaël Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are not on the team for this tie. Nor is Gilles Simon, another experienced player.

Pospisil starting 2018 strong

Pospisil is on a bit of a roll so far in 2018. He had to qualify at the Australian Open, and he did. That he drew Marin Cilic in the first round was just so much bad luck. The Canadian could well have pushed their match to five sets, but he fell in four. And Cilic went on to reach the singles final.

But the Vernon, B.C. native has had intermittent knee pain last week, even as he won a Challenger title in Rennes France. 

In the absence of top Canadian Milos Raonic from the Davis Cup scene these last few years, Pospisil has done yeoman’s work in keeping Canada in the World Group.

Over the last six months, teenager Denis Shapovalov has emerged to give Pospisil some respite.

But once again, Pospisil has gotten the call.

Dancevic’s other option was to put in … himself. No doubt he’s keeping that as an emergency measure.

Pospisil chooses ’18 coaching team

There have been a lot of coaching changes for Vasek Pospisil in the last few years. (It feels like a Canadian virus; fellow Canadians Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard also have had their share).

But after spending the late summer and fall testing out some options, the 26-year-old from Vancouver has made his choice.

In 2018 and in the preparation leading up to the new season, he’ll work with two coaches who operate as a tightly-knit unit: Dirk Hordorff and Rainer Schuettler.

It seemed as though Pospisil and Woodford – seen here during last year’s preseason with Pat Cash – were a good fit. But reality proved otherwise, and Woodforde was gone by May)

Pospisil spent last year’s offseason and the first part of 2017 with Aussie doubles legend Mark Woodforde.

But that one really didn’t work out even if began with a bang, as Pospisil upset then No. 1 Andy Murray at Indian Wells in March.

After the split during a series of Challenger events in Asia in May, Pospisil immediately won a $150,000 Challenger in South Korea. But the rest of the season lurched along in fits and starts, with his reoccurring back issues often surfacing at just the wrong times.

Experience and Tour knowledge combine

THE GOOD LIFE: Hordorff probably wouldn’t argue if you said that being able to sit courtside on a lovely Aussie summer day chatting with the charming Mrs. Tipsarevic while supervising her husband’s practice has been a major perk of his long association with the Serb. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Hordorff, best known in recent years as the coach of Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic, has always coached other players. He worked with Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu for a decade.

Schuettler spent more than 15 years on Tour, reaching a career-best No. 4 in singles. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

But his longest coaching relationship was with Schuettler.

Through 20 years together, Schuettler reached a career high of No. 4 in singles back in 2004. He was a surprise finalist at the Australian Open in 2003.

Now – much in the way former Raonic coach Ricardo Piatti and longtime former pupil Ivan Ljubicic worked together – they are a team.

The two combined to coach Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis from 2014-16.

(Purely coincidentally, Berankis is nearly exactly the same age as Pospisil – two days older, born June 21, 1990).

Hordorff, 56, also is vice-president for High Performance Sport at the German Tennis Federation.

Good candidates, tough call

Pospisil also considered another combination. Jan de Witt and Jan Vacek, both from the Germany-based BreakPoint Academy, were with him in New York at the US Open. 

Pospisi listens to Jan de Witt as Jan Vacek watches on, on a practice court at the US Open ahead of his first-round match. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

DeWitt has coached many players, notably including both Gilles Simon and Gaël Monfils. Vacek (imagine this tandem: Vasek and Vacek), a giant of a man, played on the ATP Tour for a decade and reached a career high of No. 61.

In the end, the Canadian liked what the Hordorff-Schuettler team had to say.

The pair will be the anchors as Pospisil rebuilds a solid team around him, and works to get his mojo back and get back to winning on court.

Currently ranked No. 109, Pospisil likely will have to play the qualifying at the Australian Open in January. He will begin his season at Hopman Cup in Perth, teamed up with Bouchard.

#OlympicDay – Rio tennis flashback

There were a lot of big names missing at the Rio Olympics – especially on the men’s side.

But it was a fabulous event just the same.

Here’s a sample of pics taken during the tournament.

Among those featured are Eugenie Bouchard, Canadians Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil, Venus Williams, Fabio Fognini, Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daria Kasatkina, Andy Murray and many more.

There’s a special collection of epic Barbora Strycova moments in there, too. 

Enjoy.


 

No French Open for Canadian Pospisil

Canadian Vasek Pospisil has decided to skip the French Open this year.

For the first time since 2013, the 26-year-old was to play in the singles qualifying after a rankings drop. Had the deadline been this week, he likely would have been straight into the main draw.

The 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion with American Jack Sock will also miss the doubles, which he had planned to play with Poland’s Marcin Matkowski.

“I need to reset. The last few weeks have been draining and I don’t feel that I’m in the best state to be going to Roland Garros right now without a team, and being tired mentally and physically,” said Pospisil, who split with new coach Mark Woodforde during his current tour of Challenger tournaments in Asia.

Pospisil with former coach Mark Woodforde at Indian Wells in March. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

After one final tournament in Busan, Korea this week and a break at home, Pospisil will head east. He will train with former coach Fred Niemeyer, who coaches with Tennis Canada out of Montreal. The preparation for grass and the summer hard-court seasons will begin.

Pospisil has never done well at the French Open in singles. As it happens, he has arrived there nearly every year carrying an injury, or rusty from lack of match play. In five visits, he has lost in the first round each time, last year to top-10 player Tomas Berdych.

The relationship with Woodforde began late last year with a trial and went through the offseason training period. It seemed promising at first; there were some good moments, including an upset of world No. 1 Andy Murray at Indian Wells in March.

But in the end, the relationship lasted just four months. Pospisil’s association with previous coach Frédéric Fontang lasted more than four years.

The Canadian will have to start from scratch again on the coaching front and rebuild his team. That’s a bigger challenge in the middle of the season than it is at other periods of the year.

Buss: The fans, from all over, the lifeblood of the BNP Paribas Open

INDIAN WELLS – Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open, 36,361 patrons came through the gates and set an all-time session attendance record for the event.

Curious as to who these throngs were, I spent the better part of the day trying to meet some of them, to find out who exactly is out watching tennis in the desert.

Conversations about the BNP Paribas Open usually center around the stunning facilities, the top-shelf field, the gorgeous Coachella Valley and of course, Oracle founder and billionaire Larry Ellison. But without the fans, this event doesn’t happen. What began 40 years ago as a small pro tournament played at a private club is now an internationally renowned mega-sporting event that is growing in stature year after year. And it’s all fuelled by fan demand.

As I walked the grounds observing clusters of fans, one of the first things I noticed was an immediate need for a translator. From Europe to Asia, to South America and beyond, you’ll hear foreign languages a-plenty around the grounds.

Indian Wells used to be quite provincial. As the tournament grew, the event morphed in to a destination for winter-weary North Americans. Throwing an elite tennis tournament in to the equation just sealed the deal. An international fan base has grown roots at this event and with American tennis exceptionalism in decline at the moment, that’s a trend likely to continue.

I asked a couple from Seattle what finally brought them to Indian Wells after all these years, “Roger Federer. I’ve never seen him play live. I figured I better do it now before its too late,” the gentleman replied.

When I casually mentioned Federer wouldn’t play his first match until Sunday, he said, “Oh, we know. We just want to watch him practice for a couple days. We have to go back Saturday night, so we’ll take whatever we can get !”

All the way from Seattle… to watch Fed practice.

When Federer takes to the practice court, every nook and cranny is jammed. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

West coast tennis fans used to have an array of events to choose from: Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, La Costa, Carson, San Jose to name a few. Now, the BNP Paribas Open is the one time all year the top men’s players travel west of the Mississippi. (the women also hit Stanford, Calif. in the summer).

In part, that speaks to a larger trend. To host a major event and attract the top stars, it now takes a world class facility. With the cost out on the West coast, and no available slots in the ATP Tour calendar, Indian Wells is it here for some time to come.

As a result, everyone comes: the reunion crowds who meet up here every year, the celebration crowds who mostly hang out at the bars, the parents and children with their giant autographed yellow tennis balls clamoring for the attention of their favorite players.

When Juan Martin del Potro takes the court, the blue and white comes out. (Barry Buss/Tennis.Life)

There also is no shortage of industry people here. And as always, the crowds are divided into the haves and have-nots. The Stadium 1 box seats and suites are a mix of corporate marketing and personal discretionary spending, with the increasingly steep prices giving even some of my well-heeled colleagues pause.

Of course, there is also Fan Zero, Larry Ellison. He’s such a big fan of the game – he bought the tournament. He has a private luxury box within the private luxury seats, so that you don’t forget that.

Above the bourgeoisie is the proletariat, that guy who just loves his tennis. I flagged one down early Saturday stalking the outer courts alone.

He said he was first through the gate and set up shop on the back courts and watch until there were no more matches to watch. “I just love it!” he said.

Tennis brings out the patriotism in every fan. (Barry Buss/Tennis.Life)

In the space next to him lay an enormous backpack bursting at the zipper– what he called his “Indian Wells survival pack”.

He had fluids, hats, a blanket, extra clothing, sunblock, chargers, homemade sandwiches to last all day. “I won’t pull my wallet out once the whole day. It makes me laugh hearing what people spend out here. I park at the hotel and take the free shuttle. They aren’t getting any of my money!” he said.

Walking further through the crowd, you feel how special this event is for those in attendance. So much athletic greatness, one rock star after another practicing and playing beside each other all day long. You can just feel the pride the fans feel for the favorites, but you can feel their pride in their countrymen and women even more.

When Federer is playing, out come the Swiss red and white flags. The Argentines never miss a moment to flash the blue and white when their native son Juan Martin del Potro is doing battle. And last night on center court, Vasek Pospisil had to feel like he almost was playing a Davis Cup tie in his Vancouver hometown, with the amount of maple-leaf love he was getting on Stadium 1. There’s no doubt it was a factor that helped catapult him to a career victory over world No. 1 Andy Murray.