Vasek Pospisil’s year to remember has a chance to become even more memorable.
The rising Canadian tennis star will put his experience playing top-ranked players to the test as Canada plays host to a formidable French squad in Davis Cup action this week.
“For sure, it’ll be an upset if I win,” said Pospisil after the event’s first practice Monday. “I’m definitely going to have to concentrate on playing my level and block out whoever I’m playing. Obviously, I’m an up-and-comer, but I’ve been improving a lot. I’m hoping I can take my ranking higher. ... But I feel like my level is there.”
Pospisil, a 21-year-old Vancouver resident who grew up in Vernon, B.C., moved up five places to No. 115 in world rankings released Monday. The French team boasts No. 6 Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, No. 13 Gael Monfils and No. 35 Julien Benneteau as well as No. 5-ranked doubles specialist Michael Llodra.
“Whether I play Monfils or Tsonga, or whether I play at all, obviously it’s going to be tough,” Pospisil said. “They’re two different players and there’ll be specific strategies for both. But at the moment, I’m just going to sharpen up my game and then when [the draw is announced Thursday] I’ll start to prepare for my matchup.”
Pospisil qualified for his first Grand Slam event last summer, losing in the first round of the U.S. Open. He also played key roles as Canada advanced to the tennis world’s elite 16 in Davis Cup play for the first time in eight years with a victory in Israel last September. That win followed earlier triumphs against Mexico and Ecuador. All of the matches came on the road under sometimes hostile circumstances, and Pospisil was the lone Canadian player to compete in all three while others battled injuries and illnesses.
Pospisil did not get past the qualifying round at the Australian Open and he made early exits from tournaments in Germany and India, but he feels he has had enough matches to prepare. Captain Martin Laurendeau said his past two years of trying to qualify for tournaments, then facing top-seeded opponents in early rounds, will benefit him.
“The last year and the past six months particularly were key factors for him,” Laurendeau said. “He was able to get his ranking up to where he could play bigger tournaments, bigger players. ... All those experiences, eventually they pay off and make him handle the situation more calmly and better next time – and every time – it happens.”
A victory will place Canada in the quarter-final stage and ensure a return to World Group play in 2013. If Canada loses, it will be forced to compete in a playoff round to avoid relegation to Americas Zone play and a longer road back to the top level.
Canada will attempt to capitalize on Pospisil’s powerful serve. The Canadians deliberately chose a hard court that caters to Pospisil and other big hitters Milos Raonic and Frank Dancevic.
The thin synthetic court material has been laid over the concrete floor at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre on the University of British Columbia campus, where all matches will be played. It’s hard to notice any discernible thickness between the court’s acrylic paint and the hard floor.
Pospisil, who only played outdoors growing up in his Okanagan Valley hometown, welcomes the chance to play indoors on his team’s chosen surface.
“I like the bounces,” he said after testing the court for the first time. “I like the way it feels.”
Pospisil could also be asked to play a finesse game. He is a candidate to team up with third-ranked doubles ace Daniel Nestor of Toronto in a potentially pivotal match.
Nestor was just a 19-year-old rookie the last time Davis Cup matches were played in Vancouver in 1992. But he got the call to play a singles match against Stefan Edberg and upset the star Swede. Laurendeau, then a player in the national team program, remembers the time a bit too vividly for his liking.
“From that weekend, I was actually pretty upset that he got to play, because I think I was top 100 at the time and I wanted to play, but I didn’t,” recalled Laurendeau. “But when the decision was made, it was all about winning against Sweden, and the gamble paid off at that time.”
With Raonic, Canada’s highest-ranked singles player in history, currently at No. 29, Pospisil and No. 178 Dancevic in tow, Nestor will only play doubles against the French.
“If we would have played on ice, I think he probably would have wanted to play,” Laurendeau said. “But with [Nestor’s]lefty serve, now we’ve got to work the point a little bit.”