From worry to the best season of his career is probably the best way to describe the year of young Canadian player Vasek Pospisil, who started the season ranked 125 in the world and finishes it at n°32, just at the cut for an Australian Open seeding.
His great season and amazing rise in the rankings make him, for me, the best breakthrough of the ATP for 2013, despite a few ups and downs, which are only normal for a young player with his aggressive game style.
A delayed start
The Canadian had to wait until February to start his 2013 campaign. During his off-season training with his new coach Frédéric Fontang in Florida, he started experiencing extreme fatigue after some routine practice sessions, then had more and more frequent bouts of fever, which led to questioning, then to a medical examination.
The diagnosis was a difficult one to take for Pospisil: he had mononucleosis and was forced to retire from all tournaments in January, including the Australian Open.
“This was devastating news“, writes Pospisil in the biography of his brand new website. “I didn’t know how long I would have it or when I would be healthy or strong enough to play again. I only heard terrible stories of what it can do to an athlete. […] This was a huge speed bump and came at a horrible time as this was supposed to be the period where we did the most work on making changes in my game. I layed (sic) in bed and stayed indoors for 12 days, at which point I started feeling a little better.“
His illness also prompted a major change in his eating habits. Out were the poutine, the subs, the fast-food and all the unhealthy things he could eat. In was a special very strict diet, courtesy of his mother.
This diet helped his coming back to good health, and he started the season in the Davis Cup tie against Spain, in Vancouver, where he only played the doubles rubber with Daniel Nestor (which they lost in five sets to the then second team in the world, Marcel Granollers and Marc López).
Up-and-down, then came Montreal
Pospisil made his season debut at the Dallas Challenger, where he lost in the first round to fellow Canadian Frank Dancevic (hero of the Davis Cup tie against Spain a few days before).
Then followed a series of ups-and-downs for the British Colombian, alternating between the Challenger Tour and the ATP Tour for a 30-16 overall record, combining 19 triumphs on the Challenger Tour, where he won two titles (Johannesburg and Vancouver) and reached one final (Rimouski), five ATP qualifications wins, and 6 ATP level main draw match wins, including his first career semifinal, in Bogotá (where he lost to Alejandro Falla).
Then came Montreal, where he arrived just after winning the Vancouver Challenger, at home.
Ranked 71st in the world when the tournament started, he logged his first career win against a top 20 player when he defeated John Isner in the first round, then his first top 10 win when he edged Tomas Berdych (then ranked n°6) 7-5 in the third set tiebreak in the round-of-16, before reaching his second semifinal of the season, his first in a Masters 1000, when Nikolay Davydenko, sick, retired after three games in their quarter-final match.
His impressive Montreal run ended to the hands of another Canadian, Milos Raonic, in a heartbreaking three-setter, which Pospisil lost 7-4 in the deciding set breaker. Nevertheless, he had achieved more than he expected, even surpassing his goal for the season (entering the top 50) with a career high of n°40 in the rankings once the tournament ended.
Disappointments before an outstanding conclusion
After his Montreal run, Vasek Pospisil had a couple of very difficult losses, having several match points against David Goffin in the second round of Cincinnati (where he entered with a special exempt), then again against Rogerio Dutra Silva in the U.S. Open after a very controversial bad call from umpire Mohamed El Jennati on match point in the fifth-set tiebreak, which he ended up losing 12-10.
Spraining his ankle at the end of a tight third-set tiebreak in the deciding Davis Cup semifinal rubber against Janko Tipsarevic, he came back, as planned, in Kuala Lumpur, where he lost to Federico Delbonis in two tiebreaks in the second round, then reached two more second rounds (Shanghai, where he earned his second top 10 win agaisnt Richard Gasquet in the first round, and Vienna).
Pospisil then moved on to reach his third semifinal of the season in his best performance in an ATP500 tournament, losing to Roger Federer in Basel in a gripping three-setter which narrowly escaped him, 7-5 in the deciding set.
Out of steam, he lost in the first round of the Paris Masters 1000 to Pablo Andújar, ending his season at a career high of n°32 in the world.
A season beyond his expectations
When he came back on this season after his last tournament, Vasek Pospisil admitted: “I didn’t think that I would improve so quickly, at the pace that I did. For sure that was an unexpected surprise.“
What could he attribute this great season to? The Canadian did not hesitate in pointing his success to the work he’s been doing with his coach, Frédéric Fontang:
“I think [the change of coach affected my game] in many ways, obviously. We started working in the right direction in terms of what I need to do to become a better player right from the beginning. I think that took a few months to develop fully and of course, we had a slower start due to the mono. Frédéric nailed it pretty good on what I need to work on and to improve and I think that just doing the right work in the right direction, pushing myself on the court every time I step on the court really made a difference.”
What changes did Fontang bring to his game? “Overall, being more aggressive on the court, having more of an aggressive game“, said Pospisil. “I think over the past couple of years I would’ve tended to be a little too comfortable, you know, rallying about at the back, waiting for my opponent to make mistakes, which didn’t need much convincing but to me, that was obviously not the right way to play and not the way I needed to play to reach the top 50. That was the goal we set at the beginning of the year, and right from the start I agreed 100% with basically everything that Frédéric told me and his opinion on my game and what I needed to do. Like I said, the main thing would be just having a more aggressive approach and just getting more comfortable, playing that way, to become more natural for me to be more aggressive. It’s been the key to my success for sure.“
An accomplished doubles player, Pospisil will be teaming up with Austrian Julian Knowle for “a couple of tournaments at the beginning of the year but we haven’t committed to much more than that.“
Why are doubles so important for him? “There’s a lot of things that you can take from the doubles and convert into the singles, like touching up on the serve and finishing points at the net. Basically any time you spend on the court and in competition will help your game. So I’ll definitely be looking to play as many doubles tournaments that I feel necessary for my development on the singles court.“
A very down-on-earth young fellow, Pospisil admits that the biggest lesson he has learned in this breakthrough season “is just to trust yourself and trust what you’re doing and the work that you’re doing and the coach that you’re working with because I feel like right from the beginning perhaps the results weren’t as great as… well, obviously the first half wasn’t as good as they are now in the second half, but I just felt like my moment would come and I wasn’t panicking even if I was losing some first rounds and not doing so great in ATP events. But I trusted in the process and trusted in my work with Frédéric and waited for my chance. It came at the Rogers Cup and here I am now 32 in the world so if there’s one lesson I can take from this year, it would be to follow in that same way.“
With this kind of attitude, we can be sure of one thing: if Vasek Pospisil had the best breakthrough season of the ATP World Tour in 2013, it sure will not stop there! As the new popular saying in Canada goes: anything is Pospisil!