I have always admired Canadian tennis player Vasek Pospisil. He has the talent, the drive, the game, the body and the temperament to go far in the sport. By the standard professional tennis career, he has already gone far. Most of his success though has come in doubles, not singles – where every young player wants to succeed. Success in singles is tennis’ Holy Grail – the recognition, the headlines, the money, the titles, the admiration of the fans and the personal satisfaction of achievement.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the success that Pospisil has had in doubles. How could you possibly call a Wimbledon title and five other ATP Tour titles and being ranked as high as #4 in the world a disappointment? I guess there is also the factor of always wanting more and the lure of the aforementioned gold at the end of the singles tennis rainbow. The fact remains that Pospisil’s doubles career eclipses the success he has had in singles by leaps and bounds. The handful of success he has had in singles (a Wimbledon QF, a Masters 1000 SF and an ATP 500 F) have been great to see, but the disappointments (considering his talent) have been more discouraging and at times, mind-boggling.
Of the many times I have watched him play singles (or at least followed his matches and the results) over the past five years, I can only recall a few occasions where he has gone out and blitzed his opponent off the court – as he should, the talent that he has. However, a disturbing trend has developed where he gets himself involved in the most tortuous, long matches that he could possibly get into – matches that go the distance, either three or five sets, that drain him physically and cause great concern for his well-being on the court.
Of greater concern is the obvious frustration he is starting to display. His meltdown at the 2015 U.S. Open where he annihilated his sports bag on the side of the court was not one of his best moments. Taking out his anger on one of his water bottles at the 2016 Indian Wells tournament was also a sign that all was not well with where his mind was at in terms of his tennis. He’s also received time violations for taking too long between points – trying to catch his breath after grueling rallies with Andy Murray (in Rotterdam in 2015). He seems physically fit, but then his body lets him down as he gets into demanding conditions (length of matches, cramping, heat and humidity). When his body lets him down, the mental side of his game goes awry as he gets frustrated with how his body and/or conditioning goes sideways.
These emotional outbursts are, of course, in complete contrast to Vasek Pospisil the person. His sunny, personable, likable, down-to-earth demeanor is one of the more refreshing personalities on the ATP Tour. I share his frustration with how his singles career is currently going because all of the positive things he has going for him are not adding up to where he should be with his singles career. He should be, at the very least, ranked in the top 20 or close to where he was in 2013 when he had a monumental breakthrough at the Rogers Cup.
As the months and the years go by and the frustration mounts, I believe he is going to have to sit down and have a serious chat with both himself and the members of his inner circle. This has to happen sooner rather than later – he’s not getting any younger. I think he has to make a major career change. Whether that is finding out what he can do to make his body more adaptable to grueling playing conditions; changing his style of play to produce shorter matches; making a coaching change; or (my choice) leaving singles behind and concentrating on becoming one of (if not the best) doubles players on the planet.
2016 has been a disaster for his singles career. Not once has he moved past the second round of any tournament. This has now reflected in his ranking - currently at #123. I feel his frustration. He has all the goods and no results to show for it. His problem is 100% mental. Obviously, he is the only person who knows what this problem is but what is even more painfully obvious is that he needs someone to help him fix it.
Separating from his coach was a good first step. He needs a fresh voice and new perspective. I was surprised he stopped playing doubles with Jack Sock. I really thought that partnership would help him with his singles game. It was good to hear that he will play with fellow Canadian Daniel Nestor for the rest of the season. Nestor will be a calming and a mentoring influence on him. Another advantage would be if they could string together some wins and win a title or two. That would do wonders for his confidence.
If Pospisil’s time playing singles has been at times tortuous and arduous, he seems perfectly at home and at peace playing doubles. Doubles seems to be his game – not singles. This is clear not just because of the results he has had, but his temperament and frame of mind when he is on court with another partner. He not only has doubles titles with his regular partner Jack Sock, but also with Nicholas Mahut and Nenad Zimonic. He’s had numerous Davis Cup victories with Daniel Nestor. He’s a different player when he plays doubles. All the frustration he experiences in singles disappears when he plays doubles.
There is no doubt that Pospisil is an accomplished tennis player. He’s had some high profile and satisfying results in singles. But his lack of consistency is frustrating. The injuries he has had to deal with since the beginning of 2014 have also probably contributed to his fluctuating ranking and the frustration he feels in taking one step forward and two steps back. His saving grace, his peace, his happiness and belief in his game over the past couple years has been doubles. That is why his future in the sport lies with that part of the game. It’s fairly obvious and it’s staring right at him.
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