This is a story of how two young men fall in love (platonically and professionally) and how Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock are upending the natural order of the tennis world in doubles (at least for now, and maybe for a while).
Fact No. 1: No aspiring tennis player grows up dreaming of doubles. The stars play singles. Young men imagine themselves as a future Roger Federer.
Reality No. 1: There is room for only a few big-time stars. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have a stranglehold on the roles. Federer remains a maestro but is (slightly) fading. Milos Raonic, with perhaps the biggest serve of all-time, is rapidly rising.
Then there’s Sock, a 21-year-old American from Nebraska, currently ranked No. 60 in singles. So let’s be pragmatic. Pro tennis is an expensive undertaking, the cost of travel around the world and coaching for intermittent paycheques, chasing the dream alongside a couple hundred men chasing the same dream. Playing some doubles on the side is pragmatic.
Reality No. 2: Sock wanted to play doubles at Wimbledon this year, but he didn’t have a high enough ranking to get in. He needed a partner. He texted Vasek Pospisil, the 24-year-old Canadian whom he barely knew and who had had solid success in both singles and doubles. Pospisil was troubled by a bad back and wasn’t sure he could play.
Falling in Love No. 1: If Sock wanted in on Wimbledon doubles, Jack needed Vasek. “Sugar daddy!” declared Pospisil of his standing in their relationship, the two shoulder-to-shoulder in an interview on Monday afternoon in Washington.
Holy moly No. 1: The first time the two young men hit tennis balls together was before their first match at Wimbledon. Pospisil had lost his opening singles match and really turned his focus to doubles. “Then we started to play,” Sock said on Monday. “And thank god we did.”
The two bumped fists, smiles on their face, their blue eyes locked. At Wimbledon, they ploughed through the tournament, topped by a five-set victory over the legendary Bryan twins, Bob and Mike. The Bryans were gracious but suggested it was a bit of a fluke, the insouciance of first-timers. “The honeymoon period is sometimes, you know, tough to stop,” Bob Bryan said afterward.
Fact No. 2: Not a fluke. At the BB&T Atlanta Open last Sunday, Pospisil and Sock won their second title. They lost only a single set. In 31 sets over their two titles, 10 matches, they’re now 25-6. They are, suddenly, the No. 7-ranked doubles team in the world – with a solid shot at the prestigious season-end ATP World Tour Finals in London. They will play doubles in Toronto at the Rogers Cup next week, and then Cincinnati the following week, before they aim for another Grand Slam in New York at the U.S. Open.
Important Context No. 1: Pospisil is no doubles schlub. The speciality – and it takes focus, rather than occasional play – is dominated by older men, led by the ageless Daniel Nestor of Toronto, 41. The Bryan twins, one of the greatest teams ever, are 36. Pospisil, however, paired with Nestor, had some essential earlier experience. Nenad Zimonjic, 38, half of the No. 2 team with partner Nestor, specifically pointed to last year’s U.S. Open, where Pospisil played with Nestor and nearly defeated the No. 1 Bryans. Zimonjic, not a guy who is effusive with praise, said: “I thought that [Pospisil] was maybe the best player on the court – for that match.”
Important Context No. 2: Sock had some doubles bona fides, too. He won an ATP doubles title last year and won in mixed doubles at the U.S. Open in 2011. Sock and Pospisil aren’t doubles tourists. They have big serves, tough to break – a doubles essential – and Pospisil is savvy at the net, too, another big plus. “We’re very dangerous players,” Pospisil said. “Our games mesh really well.”
Important Context No. 3: Pospisil, finally, found the answer to his wonky lower back. He was misdiagnosed a bunch of times before he went to Prague and Dr. Pavel Kolar, who, in the words of the doctor’s website, has devised “a revolutionary diagnostic and treatment approach known as ‘dynamic neuromuscular stabilization.’”
Falling in Love No. 2: The Canadian and the American struck an instant bond. “It was a little bit of that and a little bit of the fact we kept winning,” said Pospisil on Monday, laughing. They laugh together like any couple in the swoon of new love. “If we lost right away,” Sock joked, “we’d hate each other.” Pospisil continued: “No, no! It goes without saying we would be friends. But having such an incredible experience together, our first week together.” Sock finished the feeling: “We’re pretty much brothers now.”
Fact No. 3: Doubles does not make you famous. The U.S. is hungry for a male tennis star. Sock is the second-highest rated U.S. singles player. His Wimbledon win did not get him on late-night TV. “Jimmy Fallon’s my goal, so we’ll see,” Sock said. “I think that’ll probably have to come from singles.” It’s all said in good spirits – but true, too.
Reality No. 3: When the year ends, does the band stay together? The world of doubles, especially for younger players, is one of ever-changing partnerships. That is why the older players, who forge consistent teams, dominate. The machine-gun schedules of modern tennis do not permit players to fully focus on singles and also succeed in doubles. “I’d like to think,” Pospisil began, before both begin to hedge. “If our singles schedules line up,” Sock said. They’ll play doubles at the Australian Open in January, for sure. Then, Sock said, “See how everything goes.”
Falling out of Love (professionally but not personally) No. 1: It’s not fun to think of breaking up, even though it’s what happens to all doubles partnerships. This is a business. Older players dump partners for younger players. Partnerships that flourish eventually falter. Partners move on. Partners get back together. “I’d like to think we’d still be playing doubles, just because of our results right now,” Pospisil said. Sock, however, spoke for both of them. “But, yeah, obviously the main focus is singles.”