Six weeks before Wimbledon, American Jack Sock asked Canada’s Vasek Pospisil if he wanted to team up for the doubles tournament. The two young tennis players did not know each other well but Pospisil said yes, even as he told Sock he probably wouldn’t be in shape to play because of a wonky back.
By the tournament, however, Pospisil felt strong, good to go. The partnership, however, was raw, brand new. In fact, the first time Pospisil and Sock hit balls together was to warm up for their first Wimbledon match as partners. Six matches later, the last points they played on the grass of the All England Club in southwest London came in the championship game against the best doubles team of all time – the Bryans, Bob and Mike, winners of 15 Grand Slam finals. But as we now know, Pospisil and Sock defeated the Bryans in that extraordinary five-set battle, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
Amid the celebration of the rise of Canadian tennis – Eugenie Bouchard getting to the Wimbledon women’s singles final and Milos Raonic reaching the men’s semi-finals – the unlikely story of Pospisil and Sock received only fractional attention. Doubles is usually a footnote in pro tennis, receiving scant attention even as it is the favoured game for many recreational players.
But it has long been the source of Canadian court success – the amazing and ageless Daniel Nestor of Toronto has won eight men’s Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in men’s doubles, and now 24-year-old Pospisil, who grew up in British Columbia, has announced himself.
Nestor, 41, had for years been an inspiration to Pospisil, and more recently a mentor, friend and playing partner. The two combined for an incredible five-set Davis Cup doubles victory last year in Vancouver, when Canada triumphed over Italy in part because of Nestor and Pospisil, whose final set required an astounding 28 games – 15-13 – to win.
Pospisil has faced the Bryans once before in doubles, at last year’s U.S. Open, playing with Nestor and losing two sets to one in the round of 16. Nestor has since rekindled his winning ways this year, reunited with long-time partner Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia. But at Wimbledon the two lost in the quarterfinals. It left Pospisil to carry the red-and-white flag on the Wimbledon grass.
Between Pospisil and the 21-year-old Nebraskan Sock, there was instant chemistry, unquantifiable sporting magic that can randomly bloom, and it carried the unseeded duo through some of the best teams in the draw at Wimbledon. After the win over the Bryans, Pospisil joked about their strategy: “Close your eyes and hope you have the game of your life.”
On Tuesday, back home in Florida, Pospisil reflected on the title, a major win in a year during which little has gone right – he’s suffered a long string of losses while struggling with an injured back. At Wimbledon, he said, he rediscovered the joy of playing tennis.
“We had a lot of fun on the court,” said Pospisil on a conference call with reporters. “From the very first round, we were just laughing and enjoying ourselves and trying not to taking it too seriously, but at the same time wanting to win.”
The Bryans saw it too. “The honeymoon period is sometimes, you know, tough to stop,” said Bob Bryan after losing. His brother Mike added: “They’ve never lost a match together. That’s just the force of momentum. They have smiles on their faces. They’re playing happy.”
Pospisil’s difficult first half of 2014 came after a strong 2013, when he shot up the singles rankings with play that included a semifinal appearance at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He reached No. 25 in January, and has since slid to No. 33 – which is where he now also ranks in doubles, well above his No. 89 ranking at the start of the year.
A doubles victory at Wimbledon has reinvigorated his game, and Pospisil will continue to play this year with Sock, with a shot at the year-end championships, but it’s not his priority. “The focus is still strongly on singles,” said Pospisil.
Still, even if it is all about singles, playing doubles helps. At the start of the year, Pospisil and his coach decided to put some additional focus on doubles, where Pospisil could work on play at the net, and on generally aggressive play – something he wanted to bolster in his singles game. As the tennis calendar turns toward North American events, Pospisil hopes doubles success will help revive his singles record.