ATP Rankings Report – Feb. 10, 2020

There was no change in the top 20, as the week after the first major of the season featured tournaments in Montpellier, Cordoba and Pune, India.

All offered 250-level points and opportunities for big leaps as few of the top players were in action.

The one to take best advantage of it was Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

The 29-year-old, about a year removed from back surgery, finished 2019 strongly to get his comeback on track. Last week, he stood out in Montpellier.

He upset countryman Denis Shapovalov and No. 2 seed David Goffin before falling to home favorite and top seed Gaël Monfils in the final.

Pospisil inches close to the top 100 with the move. And if he can recover well, he has an opportunity as a special exempt at the 500 in Rotterdam. The draw wasn’t kind – he’ll face top seed Daniil Medvedev. But he’s played a lot more good tennis in the last few weeks than the idle Russian.

ON THE UPSWING

Cristian Garin (CHI): No. 31 ========> No. 26 (The 23-year-old from Chile hits a career high as he caps three consecutive comeback wins in Cordoba with a three-set win over top seed Diego Schwartzman to win the title. Garin has a final to defend in a couple of weeks, so this was a great buffer).

Screenshot: TennisTV

Laslo Djere (SRB): No. 39 ========> No. 35 (Djere made the Cordoba semis, and is another player who made a major move on the South American clay a year ago. He beat Félix Auger-Aliassime in the Rio finals (next week), and backed that up with another win over the Canadian on his way to the Sao Paulo semis, where he lost to Pella. Rankings pressure here, too).

Filip Krajinovic (SRB): No. 44 ========> No. 39 (Krajinovic had a fairly sweet draw as he reached the Montpellier semis (Couacaud, Ymer, Barrere), but fell to eventual champion Monfils in the semis).

Egor Gerasimov (BLR): No. 90========> No. 71 (At 27 and after a decade as a pro, the Belarussian’s work is producing results. Gerasimov reached his first career final in Pune and lost a tough three-setter to eventual champion Vesely. He reaches a career rankings high.

Jiri Vesely (CZE): No. 107 ========> No. 72 (The 26-year-old, who was as high as 35 five years ago, is back in the conversation after winning the Pune tournament. He won his only other Tour event five years ago in Auckland. Vesely is a former junior No. 1 (nine long years ago). He won junior Australian Open in 2011 and reached the US Open junior final, where he beat Kyle Edmund in the semis.  It’s a process).

James Duckworth (AUS): No. 96 ========> No. 83 (The 28-year-old, starting his second decade as a pro, has kept plugging away and is now one short of a career high reached nearly five years ago. He reached the semis in Pune).

ranking

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 132 ========> No. 104 (Pospisil was well outside the top 200 at one point during this return from back surgery. A finals effort in Montpellier – notably, with a semifinal win over David Goffin when he was absolutely running on fumes in the third set – brings him less than 50 points from the top 100).

Mohamed Safwat (EGY): No. 157 ========> No. 130 (Safwat, a 29-year-old from Egypt, reaches a career high after winning his first career Challenger title in Launceston, Tasmania).

Jurij Rodionov (AUT): No. 362 ========> No. 232 (The 20-year-old from Austria leaps … 130 spots in the rankings after winning the Challenger in Dallas, Texas last week. He dropped only one set on the way to the title).  

ON THE DOWNSWING

Guido Pella (ARG): No. 22 ========> No. 27 (The 29-year-old Argentine lost a contentious one to Corentin Moutet in his Cordoba opener. He was a finalist there a year ago, and a semifinalist in this week’s tournament Buenos Aires and a champion at the Sao Paulo event at the end of February. So there are lot of points to defend).

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA): No. 33 ========> No. 46 (Tsonga’s Oz Open injury forced him to pull out of the European indoor circuit, always a profitable one for the country’s players. He won Montpellier a year ago, and made the quarters in Rotterdam. So another 90 points will drop off next week and cost him another few spots. And he worked SO hard to get back to the upper levels, too).

Marton Fucsovics (HUN): No. 53 ========> No. 66 (The Hungarian, so impressive at the Australian Open in reaching the second week, drops some of his gains after not defending his final effort in Sofia, Bulgaria a year ago. He qualified in Rotterdam, where he was a quarterfinalist in 2019. And he’ll face Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round).

Londero
Londero not only won his first career ATP main-draw match in his Cordoba hometown in February, 2019 – he won the whole tournament.

Juan Ignacio Londero (ARG): No. 50 ========> No. 69 (The players who come out of the woodwork to post career results on the South American clay sometimes have a hard time backing up that result the following year. And so the efforts of Londero, a 26-year-old Argentine who was at a career high last week, were noteworthy with a quarterfinal last week (a tough third-set tiebreak loss to Djere), but not enough. Londero, a wild card, defeated countrymen Delbonis and Pella in the final two rounds and took the Cordoba title last year in its inaugural edition.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA): No. 67 ========> No. 78 (Herbert, who was at a career-best No. 36 in singles exactly a year ago, lost in the quarters in Montpellier. He reached the final a year ago, beating Shapovalov in the quarters and Tomas Berdych in the semis before losing to Tsonga).

Opelka

Brayden Schnur (CAN): No. 118 ========> No. 121 (Schnur has a big week coming up, where he defends his first career ATP Tour final at the New York Open).

Hyeon Chung (KOR): No. 138 ========> No. 139 (The 23-year-old former top-20 player has gone underground again, as he hasn’t played since Vienna last October. His inability to stay healthy has made his career a star-crossed one so far. He’s still young. But like all of us, he’s not as young as he used to be).

The wounded warriors return in Oz (updated)

It’s hard to know without a lot of forensic digging if it’s a record.

But a total of 11 players combined, in the men’s and women’s entry lists, have entered the 2020 Australian Open with injury-protected rankings.

Another is just below the cutoff, and therefore likely to get in by the time the tournament begins in less than six weeks.

The other factor is that they can all wait until the very last minute to pull out, to try to get half of that first-round money.

So those on the alternates list will be very much in limbo.

The wounded warriors come in all shapes and sizes.

Some have been off the tour for a long time, and are returning from injury.

And some others are already back and working their way up the rankings. But they’re still not high enough to get in without using their protected rankings.

A couple of promising young Americans who have been out for a long time are on the comeback trail.

Mackenzie McDonald and Jared Donaldson, who were on the come-up before the injury bug struck, plan to make their return in Melbourne.

Here is the list of players, and what they’ve been up to in recent months.

Protected rankings rule on first Oz entry lists

Women’s protected rankings

CiCi Bellis (USA)
PR No. 43
Current ranking: No. 859

Bellis, still just 20, had been out since losing in the first round of the 2018 Miami Open to Victoria Azarenka – until she made her return in Houston last month.

That’s the reason she has any ranking at all. Bellis won a qualifying match, then won two matches in the main draw before losing to Kirsten Flipkens at the WTA 125K tournament.

It’s hard to judge whether she’s out of the woods yet, after a year and a half of dire prognoses and … four surgeries on her right forearm.

But she plans to go full-steam ahead. She’s even signed up for doubles with her good pall Marketa Vondrousova.

Vera Zvonareva
PR No. 78
Current ranking: No. 160

Zvonareva, now 35, returned from a long absence (and a baby) in 2017.

She played a full schedule in 2019. Until the French Open, where she lost in the first round to Aliona Bolsova.

She hasn’t been seen since, reportedly due to a wrist injury.  But she appears to have planned a full Australian summer as she returns.

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Zvonareva in Melbourne in 2015. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)
PR No. 85
No current ranking

Bondarenko, now 33, was out from the 2018 US Open until she returned at the Tashkent Open in September. 

During that time, she had a second daughter. Daughter Karin is now 6.

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Katie Boulter (GBR)
PR No. 85
Current ranking: No. 340 

Boulter, now 23, reached her career-best ranking of No. 82 in February.

But then, back woes hit. Boulter played Fed Cup in April, even though she was already hampered. 

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Boulter has been out much of the last year with back woes. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In May, she entered the French Open but took advantage of the “late withdrawal get half the prize money” clause. That didn’t go over well with some, even though it’s perfectly legitimate.

But it was months before she returned. 

Boulter played two $25,000-level ITF events in Thailand in November, her first matches back. She went 1-2. We’ll see if she’s ready for Australia.

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK)
PR No. 93
Current ranking: No. 132

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Schmiedlova at the 2018 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Schmiedlova is an enigma at the best of times. Sometimes, she looks like a world-beater – a great athlete and a talented groundstroker.

Other times, she looks like she doesn’t want to be on court.

But you’d have to think this fairly extended absence because of a knee injury will give her a lot of motivation to play.

The 25-year-old reached her career best ranking of No. 26 four years ago.

She’s been out since losing a tough one in the first round of Wimbledon to Monica Puig – 7-5 in the third set. So she’s just getting in under the wire with the six-month absence.

Coco Vandeweghe (USA)
PR No. 100
Current ranking: No. 239

Vandeweghe is in a rather peculiar position in that she was able to earn a main-draw wild card into the Australian Open because she won the USTA playoff last month.

She likely would have gotten in with her protected ranking. And as she has only used up one of the two allowed Grand Slam exemptions, she could take a pass on the wild card and have it go to the second-place finisher.

That would be Katerina Stewart, a player ranked No. 278 who didn’t play at all from Sept. 2018 through to mid-May. And who earned just $22,000 in prize money this season.

Stewart could really use the boost. But the 28-year-old Vandeweghe also needs to worry about her own career. If she doesn’t use her protected ranking in Melbourne, she still has that one card to play at the French Open or even Wimbledon, if she doesn’t get her ranking back up in the top 100.

She is not on the main entry list with that ranking, so that deed seems to be done.

Here she is playing doubles at the 2018 Australian Open with … Laura Robson.

Men’s protected rankings

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)
PR No. 22
Current ranking: No. 123

Will the big guy play?

Obviously that’s up in the air.

And as often as del Potro has had to come back from surgeries, he has teased in Australia before. In fact, he has played in Australia just once since 2014 – in 2018 (see below for pics).

The 31-year-old debated playing the Australian Open in January, after injuring his knee during a match at the Masters 1000 in Shanghai the previous October. 

In the end, he began his season at the Delray Beach event in February. He skipped both Indian Wells and Miami and returned to the tour in Madrid in May.

Things were going okay – not great, but okay – when he pulled out of Queen’s Club before his second-round match against eventual champion Feliciano Lopez. He had defeated Denis Shapovalov in the first round.

He had surgery on that right knee the following week.

Originally, he had envisaged a return on the fall indoor circuit, notably in Stockholm. But that didn’t happen. There didn’t seem to be much buzz about him making a late appearance into the Davis Cup finals.

So the question is: is he ready? Could he be a late replacement at the ATP Cup? Argentina is in Sydney, with Croatia and Austria in their group. But Team Argentina already has a full complement of five players; one of them would have to bail out of the event, and the guaranteed money that goes with it.

Or, he could get a wild card the week before in Adelaide or Auckland.

More likely might be a late entry into the Kooyong exhibition the week before Melbourne.

Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)*********
PR No. 66
No current ranking

Dolgopolov at the 2016 Australian Open, with the will-be-missed long hair. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

****** Despite the reports of leg surgery, Dolgopolov has withdrawn from both Doha and the Australian Open with the stated reason a wrist injury*******

Dolgopolov is 31 now, and a long time removed from a career-high ranking of No. 13 set nearly eight years ago – right before the 2012 Australian Open.

He hasn’t played for more than a year and a half – since losing to Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Rome tournament in 2018.

Dolgopolov had surgery on his right wrist in Aug. 2018. That’s a very long recovery period – to say the least.

He’ll come back looking quite different, with the long blonde-streaked pony tail gone. But of course, he still has a bombshell girlfriend by his side.

Dolgopolov’s first day on the tennis court was only last June, per his Instagram account. But he reported last week that he underwent another surgery, this time on his left leg. And that’s a pretty big bandage.

He had planned to play Doha before the Australian Open. But it appears he’ll be out at least another six weeks.

Vasek Pospisil (CAN)
PR No. 73
Current ranking: No. 150

The Canadian was playing top-20 tennis as he led his country to the Davis Cup final in Madrid last month.

Now, it will be a matter of making sure the body is ready for the grind of a full season.

Pospisil had back surgery in Jan. 2019. He returned in time for Wimbledon, where he had the unfortunate luck of running into his friend and Davis Cup teammate Félix Auger-Aliassime.

He ran into him again in the first round of the Rogers Cup. But he upset top-10 player Karen Khachanov in the first round of the US Open. And in Shanghai, he went from the qualifying to the third round. That gave his ranking a boost, as he entered it all the way down at No. 248.

Pospisil was smart in using his allotment of ATP Tour events as he returned to action. He efforted hard on the Challenger circuit in the fall and won back-to-back events in Las Vegas and Charlottesville. He still has several opportunities to get into ATP events before his time runs out.

Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE)
PR No. 71)
No current ranking

Lu, who is now 36, is going to give it one more shot in 2019.

His career-high ranking of No. 33 came all the way back in 2010. And other than a pair of Challengers last spring, he has been out of action since Nov. 2017.

A shoulder injury has been the culprit.

He has had a lot going on, as he’s a pretty big deal in Taipei. He’s done television commentary. He has an academy. And, of course, he’s a longstanding member of the ATP Tour Players Council, which means he’s been in the thick of it in 2019.

We’ll see if he makes the date. If he doesn’t, you’d have to think that his time is probably up.

ranking
Lu at the 2012 Australian Open. At 36, this is probably his last kick at the can. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Mackenzie McDonald (USA)
PR No. 83
Current ranking: No. 130

The young American, now 24, hit his best ranking of No. 57 back in April after reaching the third round in Barcelona.

But he’s been out since losing a tough five-setter to Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round of the French Open.

He had surgery on his right hamstring back in June.

ranking
Mackenzie McDonald, who has has some great moments at the Australian Open, hopes to return in style next month. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Cedric-Marcel Stebe (GER)
PR No. 95
Current ranking: No. 166

The German lefty, now 29, reached a career high of No. 71 in singles back in 2012.

But his career has been beset by major injuries.

He was out from Oct. 2013 to Feb. 2015 after ship surgery. He returned for two $10,000 ITFs in Turkey – and then was out another full year after pelvic surgery.

In Feb. 2018, he had surgery on his right wrist. Five months later, he had a second surgery.

ranking
Stebe definitely gets an “A” for perseverance. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Stebe returned in April, 2019 with no ranking, having to start all over again. He lost his first four matches at the top level, then finally won a match – and made a run – at the clay-court tournament in Gstaad last July. Stebe reached the final there.

The lefty made another move in Stockholm in October, reaching the final there and losing to Denis Shapovalov.

Already, to go from … nothing to No. 166 is quite the feat. 

Jared Donaldson (USA)
PR No. 99)
Actual ranking: No. 717

ranking
Jared Donaldson in Melbourne in 2018. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Still just 23, Donaldson jumped into the top 50 just before Indian Wells in 2018.

But he’s another player who has lost significant momentum, just as things seemed on a roll.

Donaldson was done for 2018 after the Rogers Cup in August, due to knee tendonitis.

He missed the 2019 Australian Open, starting his season at Delray Beach. But he managed just four tournaments (and one match victory) before going off the tour again after this year’s Miami Open.

Donaldson had knee surgery in May.

Pospisil notches first post-surgery win – with one arm

GRANBY, Que. – The big one, of course, is coming up in 10 days at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

So with a sore left wrist – diagnosed as a bone bruise – Canadian Vasek Pospisil is taking no chances.

The 29-year-old returned to action for the first time since January back surgery in the first round of Wimbledon. There, he had the unfortunate task of having to face friend and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round.

Pospisil lost in four sets. But while he appears to be moving well, other physical niggles have popped up, including the knee.

And, last week, while practicing before a planned appearance in the Challenger in Gatineau, Que., the left wrist.

Pospisil withdrew from Gatineau, but took a wild card into this week’s Challenger in Granby, Que., about an hour outside Montreal. 

He faced fellow Canadian Josh Peck armed with … only one arm.

You have to see it to believe it.

Pospisil didn’t hit a single two-handed backhand. Instead, he chipped most of them, and even unleashed the topspin one-handed backhand that until now, has only been showcased on the practice court – or after a point is over.

“It’s sick, isn’t it?” said Canadian Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic (he meant this in a good way!), who is helping out Pospisil for a few weeks as he makes his comeback.

Peck undoubtedly knew about Pospisil’s situation, as his college (and national training centre) teammate Ben Sigouin was practicing with Pospisil when he hurt the wrist in Gatineau. Still, he aimed primarily for Pospisil’s big forehand. Perhaps, as Pospisil posited, it was because he was running around to try to hit as many forehands as possible, and Peck wanted to open up the court.

But Pospisil was able to dictate play, serve well, and pull out his first win since the back surgery, 6-3, 6-3.

Very laid-back atmosphere

Pospisil  was just sitting on the practice court, getting ready to warm up for his match, when an official came over to tell him that the previous match on the Granby center court had ended prematurely with an injury retirement.

No worries. He said he’d be ready in half an hour, did his warmup, and headed out.

He unleashed a few one-handers there – right next to a random woman (definitely not in tennis attire) who was hitting a few balls on the next court. Granby is – well, it’s a low-key atmosphere.

Pospisil even was signing tennis balls for a group of ball kids just moments before he headed out to play the match.

Solid serving, big forehands

Pospisil got caught a few times on the backhand return, without his two-hander. Peck, 20, is taller than Pospisil and cranked his first serve as high as 213 km/hour. 

What he lacks, of course, is experience. He went through the Montreal-based national training program for several years, before going down to the U.S. where he plays for the University of North Carolina.

He has never played an ATP Tour-level event. And this was only his third career main-draw match even at a Challenger event.

The difference in level and experience was fairly evident. Here’s what it looked like.

Popular Pospisil

After the match, Pospisil was a popular man among the autograph-seeking crowd. He had Dancevic cheering him on. And Frederic Niemeyer, the Tennis Canada coach who was his first coach when he transitioned to the pro tour, came down from Montreal to support him.

Niemeyer is headed to Washington, D.C. Thursday, as he’s currently working with Brayden Schnur (who is in the qualifying there).

Escobedo next for Pospisil

Next up for Pospisil in Granby is a tougher customer in American Ernesto Escobedo.

Escobedo, still just 23, was ranked a career high No. 67 exactly at this time of the season two years ago. He’s down to No. 288 now; while he hasn’t missed any chunks of time because of injury, he has had a lot of smaller things. And his ranking has been on a steep decline since then.

Pospisil

He’s currently being coached by former top-20 American player Jan-Michael Gambill.

Pospisil

Escobedo defeated No. 14 seed Kaichi Uchida 7-5, 6-3 in his first-round match Wednesday.

 

 

Canadians prep for “Canada Day” to open Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON – On the final day of Wimbledon prep, the training centre at adjacent Aorangi Park was lousy with Canadians.

At 1 p.m., Vasek Pospisil practiced with Belgian Ruben Bemelmans, and Genie Bouchard hit with American Madison Brengle, a former charge of Canadian Fed Cup captain Heidi el Tabakh, who is acting as coach this week.

With about 20 minutes left in that hour session, more Canadians took to the new warmup area that contained the girders for the No. 1 Court last year, and had practice courts No. 1 and No. 2 for years before that.

There, Brayden Schnur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic warmed up for their 2 p.m. practice sessions.

Shapovalov and Raonic actually practiced together. And right next to them, Auger-Aliassime hit with American Frances Tiafoe.

There were friendly exchanges between Auger-Aliassime’s mother Marie Auger and Raonic’s parents and girlfriend.

Even Erin Routliffe, the New Zealand-born Canadian who moved to Canada at a young age, was on site. Routliffe is an alternate in the women’s doubles draw, with the doubles qualifying having been eliminated this year.

Here’s what it looked like. All that was missing were a few maple leafs sprinkled about the courts.

Say a Canadian “Hiya” to Rog

The next two on Raonic and Shapovalov’s court were … Roger Federer and his old pal Tomas Berdych.

So that got the Canadians a couple of hellos from the man himself.

Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil will square off in an all-Canadian battle – on Canada Day, no less – that should start about 7:30 a.m. EDT.

Raonic will follow on the same Court 12.

Schnur (against Marcos Baghdatis), Shapovalov (against Ricardas Berankis) and Bouchard (against Tamara Zidansek) will play Tuesday.

ATP Player Council postpones decision on Kermode

MELBOURNE, Australia – The ATP Tour Player Council have voted on a majority against the continued leadership of tour CEO Chris Kermod, tennis.life has learned.

The vote took place as part of the annual players’ meeting held Saturday in Melbourne.

But we’re also told the 10-member council has put off making an official decision about its position.

Headed by president Novak Djokovic and vice-president Kevin Anderson, the council will postpone its definitive position until the Indian Wells tournament in March.

Kermode’s second term as head of the men’s tour ends at the conclusion of this season. He could be renewed for a third term by a vote of the ATP Tour board of directors.

The 54-year-old Brit was seen as a compromise candidate when he was appointed in Nov. 2013. The premature and tragic death of predecessor Brad Drewett the previous May led to the opportunity.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was preferred by some. In recent years, he has expanded the reach of his country’s tennis influence well beyond the Grand Slam it hosts, 

Will board reps follow players’ lead?

According to the Telegraph, the ATP Tour board is to vote on this before the end of the month. The six-man board is composed of three members representing the tournaments’ interests, and three representing the players’ interests.

In theory, the three player reps would follow the lead of the Player Council’s position.

But that doesn’t always happen. Player rep Roger Rasheed voted to accept the offering of prize-money increases between 4-6 per cent for 2019, against the players’ wishes. He was ousted from the board shortly afterward.

Player rep Rasheed ousted from ATP Board

Rasheed was replaced – at least on interim, by former board rep David Egdes. Egdes is an executive with Tennis Channel. The other two player reps are Alex Inglot and Justin Gimelstob.

Gimelstob pleads “not guilty” in L.A. court

Gimelstob, who has pleaded “not guilty” to a charge of felony battery stemming from an incident on Halloween night, often has been at odds with Kermode. The two have markedly different philosophies, it seems.

The ATP Board voted last month not to remove Gimelstob from the board, in the wake of the charges. Neither Gimelstob nor Kermode cast a vote, per the New York Times.

Until this very serious business in his personal life, Gimelstob had been mentioned as an potential, eventual successor in the top job.

Early vote goes against Kermode

The Telegraph reported that Kermode needs (at least) two of the tournament reps and two of the player reps to vote in his favor, to renew his deal.

Kermode

Nine of the 10 players voted at the players meeting. And tennis.life has been told by a well-connected tennis source that five voted against Kermode. Four voted in his favor. The 10th vote is believed to also be a vote against him, although others maintain it was a pro-Kermode vote, which would knot the tabulation a 5-5. Let’s call that one “unclear”.

If “no” proves to be the final position, it will set off some interesting machinations inside the Tour.

Several players have publicly come out in support of Kermode this week.

Those include Stan Wawrinka, as quoted in the Telegraph story.

Aussie Nick Kyrgios, in his pre-tournament press conference, also came out in support.

“I personally like Chris. I think the changes that tennis is having with ATP Cup and stuff, I think it’s going in the right direction. He’s trying to do the right thing. I really like him, so… ” Kyrgios said.

Pospisil urges player involvement

Canadian Vasek Pospisil, newly elected to the board last year, sent out an email destined for the players ranked 51-100, the demographic he was elected to represent.

It was a strongly-worded, impassioned plea for the players to get more involved, unified and informed – to get motivated to have more of a say about their own future.

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

Pospisil is believed to be among those who voted against keeping Kermode in his job, along with president Djokovic.

A year ago, at the very same players meeting in Melbourne, Djokovic led the charge for the players to demand a bigger share of the tennis pie.

All of this comes at a fascinating, crucial time in the tour’s history. The new ATP Cup is set to kick off in 2020. And it will be country-versus-country event that comes up almost in direct competition with the revamped Davis Cup format.

The announcement of the imminent retirement of former No. 1 Andy Murray. at age 31. is a bit of a wakep call. It’s a preview of what inevitably occur in the next few years.

The so-called “Big 3” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (in order of age from eldest to youngest) will hang up their rackets.

Their successor at the top level of the game – at least in terms of being marquee attractions – have yet to be determined. And so, the tennis landscape could look quite different in a few years.

Most importantly: do those who don’t want Kermode to continue in the job have a viable, qualified, available candidate in mind who would tick as many boxes and better defend their interests?

That’s a question still to be answered.

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.

******************************

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.