In a year when everything that could go wrong mostly did go wrong for Vasek Pospisil, finally something went right for him on Tuesday night in first-round action at the Rogers Cup.
Playing on a familiar centre court in front of a largely partisan home crowd, Pospisil eliminated the No. 39 player in the world, Jérémy Chardy of France, after Chardy retired with what was believed to be a foot injury two points into the second set.
Pospisil, who won the seesaw opening set in a tiebreaker, advanced to play the mercurial, entertaining Frenchman Gaël Monfils in the second round.
For someone who has yet to win back-to-back main-draw singles matches this season, and slipped out of the top 100 this week for the first time in more than four years, the result – no matter how it was achieved – was dearly welcome. It was just Pospisil's sixth match win of the season against 18 losses.
But after a rocky start against Chardy, in which he opened with a double fault and lost his serve in the first game, Pospisil was extremely sharp on serve the rest of the way.
In all, Pospisil won four of his service games at love and dominated in the tiebreaker, firing an ace to go up 6-2 before finishing off the set by clobbering a forehand winner off of a Chardy serve.
The chance to play at home, Pospisil acknowledged, made a difference to him. And it was clear the crowd was solidly behind him, coming to life ahead of the tiebreaker – Pospisil fed off that energy to win the set going away.
Over all, his performance followed closely the game plan he outlined to reporters prior to the tournament, when he noted that he would try to use his serve and forehand more effectively as weapons.
The challenge will be to carry all that positivity into the match against Monfils, who is 27-9 on the year and coming off a title in Washington last weekend. Monfils, sporting a new, sleek coif, made short work of Portugal's Joao Sousa Tuesday, winning in straight sets.
Pospisil was the only Canadian involved in singles play Tuesday, with Milos Raonic, the world' s No. 7-ranked player and the fourth seed here, set to play his first match Wednesday evening against Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei. Lu upset the young German sensation, Alexander Zverev, in the first match of the day on Centre Court.
With three of the top four players in the world – Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – not playing here this week, one of the perceived attractions of the event was to see how the tour's Generation Next fared. So far, it hasn't gone too well. Of the six players aged 21 or under ranked in the Top 200, five – Zverev, Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios, Taylor Fritz and Kyle Edmund – have already been eliminated. The sixth, American qualifier Jared Donaldson, managed a win over Australian John Millman.
Zverev, the youngest player to crack the top 25 since France's Richard Gasquet 11 years ago, defeated Federer at Halle earlier this year. But he had an erratic time of it on the Aviva Centre's hard courts, where Lu's consistency won the day.
It was also a good day for the ad hoc Canadian doubles team of Philip Bester and Adil Shamasdin, who received a wild-card into the tournament and made good use of it. Playing against the world's No. 1 singles player, Novak Djokovic, and Daniel Nestor's former doubles partner, Nenad Zimonjic, Bester and Shasmasdin pulled out a three-set victory, 7-5, 4-6, 10-2.
Bester and Shasmasdin easily won the super tie-breaker after a couple of double faults by Bester permitted the Serbs to grab the second set.
"I wanted to keep things interesting for the crowd," explained Bester afterward. "That's just sport. That's tennis. That kind of stuff happens, not just to me, but to everyone."
Bester and Shasmasdin next meet the seventh seeds, Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram, in the second round.
"We're not just here to win one match and make some headlines that we beat a former No. 1 doubles and the current singles No. 1 in the world," said Bester. "I don't know about him. I plan on keeping winning."
Pospisil is in the same half of the doubles draw as Bester and Shasmasdin. He is playing here with the ageless Daniel Nestor instead of his regular partner, Jack Sock, so the two Davis Cup stalwarts can regain some familiarity with each other's games ahead of the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Pospisil expressed the obligatory sadness at the fact that Chardy couldn't complete the match because of an injury ("It was unfortunate the way it ended"), but then wryly acknowledged: "I'll take it for sure."
Well, why not? When you're in the sort of slump Pospisil is in, you clutch at every straw – try anything to change your luck, boost your confidence and correct your course. For one night anyway, this was a step in the right direction.