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Vasek Pospisil’s quarter-final against Andy Murray on Wednesday on the well-manicured grass at Wimbledon probably went the way many people expected.
It was competitive, there were fine, skillful moments from both players and a bunch of entertaining rallies. But in the end, the better, more experienced Murray prevailed 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 by virtue of a single service break in each set.
There had been much talk before the match about the 31 sets Pospisil played in singles and doubles in his first eight days at this year’s event, and he admitted after the match that, “I felt a bit heavy legs as the match was going on.”
What we will never know is how much better he might have played if he hadn’t been heavy-legged. As well, we will never know how Murray might have responded if Pospisil had been at a higher energy level.
There was an element of controversy in the match when Pospisil, after an earlier time-violation warning, was penalized a first serve at love-30 in the 5-all, third-set penultimate game of the match. He did get to 30-all in the game but Murray broke on his opponent’s missed forehand wide and then a deep shot that forced Pospisil to improvise a tweener forehand that was blasted away with a backhand, cross-court winner.
The Scot was forced to save the only break point he faced (with a service winner) in the final game before hitting a big forehand cross-court on his second match point.
There seems to be little doubt that Pospisil was going over the 20-second (but enforced as 25 seconds) rule at non-ATP events, with the BBC commentators reporting he was averaging 33 seconds between points in that 11th game of the final set.
“How many times do you see the top guys go more than that and they don’t get a violation, especially when it’s important moments,” Pospisil said.
“I was right on the 30 seconds, right about to serve. At 5-all, 30-all, that was ridiculous in my opinion.”
The umpire, Frenchman Pascal Maria, apparently never learns. During the memorable 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, at a crucial juncture late in the second set he gave a warning to Nadal. Fortunately, in that case, Nadal won the set and went on to win 9-7 in the fifth set.
Pospisil was saying what many people feel – that umpires shouldn’t interject themselves into the match at critical times. Let the players play.
“I think they just need to use their judgment,” he said, adding with a smile, “maybe (it’s) their egos.”
Summing up, he conceded, “I don’t think it affected me mentally very much.”
By the 11th game of the final set, Pospisil was probably not physically able to really threaten Murray. He had already saved five break points in the set and was vulnerable. “I gave everything I had,” he said about the fatigue factor. “I don’t think that affected the match too much.”
He then expressed something that many people have speculated about – “looking back, maybe it would have been nice to have just played singles this week.” Obviously, some of the three hours and 19 minutes spent on court in losing a doubles match 8-6 in the fifth set on Monday after his five-set singles win over Viktor Troicki, was still in his body.
“He played very well considering having to come back after playing 10 sets in the last two days,” said Canadian-born and raised Greg Rusedski of Britain. “He pushed Murray well and played the right kind of game-style. But you could see by the third set he’d run out of gas a little bit. For his first quarter-finals, he competed very well.”
Aesthetically, Pospisil won himself a lot of admirers with his variety and willingness to press forward. Doing BBC commentary, John McEnroe suggested Pospisil should not allow rallies to go more than four or five shots. But headlong, precipitated rushes to the net against a master passer like Murray would have been foolish. As it was, Pospisil won 23 of 28 net points, many of them with deft volley touches.
Winning at net point was not easy with Murray’s ability to pound and thread the ball with his passing shots – maybe the most artful of all was in the first game of the final set when he sped after a drop shot near the net from Pospisil and somehow flicked a backhand cross-court at an acute angle for a winner. That brought gasps from the Centre Court faithful.
“He’s a very good athlete,” Murray said about Pospisil. “He’s quick around the court. He always seems to have quite entertaining matches.”
The fact that Pospisil forced the action is clear in the winners to unforced errors ratios – he was 34/23 while Murray was 23/13.
A worrying number for Murray may be that his average second serve speed was just 87 mph compared to 105 mph for Pospisil. Roger Federer, in the semifinal on Friday, will surely try to exploit that shortcoming in Murray’s game.
The match was played in two parts, with the roof being closed after the second rain delay midway through the second set. Both players mentioned how much more humid it was with the roof on but neither suggested it was a significant factor in the match, except that Pospisil felt he was building momentum when the rain shower arrived.
Next for him will be the Davis Cup World Group quarter-final in Ostend, Belgium, next weekend.
In the 10th game of the second set, he shook his right hand after returning a Murray serve and afterward said there might be an issue. He planned to have an MRI later in the evening on the hand.
“I’m not expecting it to be anything serious,” he said. “It’s just a precautionary MRI.”
Looking ahead, he said, “the last couple of weeks I’ve kind of made the right steps,” he said. “I think I can definitely be one of those guys that’s more consistent.”
That would boost his already high profile. “I haven’t been going on social media too much,” he said about reactions at home to his Wimbledon success. “I’ve heard it’s been on the front pages of papers. That’s great. My brother is telling me that ‘Anything is Pospisil’ is trending on Twitter. That’s always nice to hear.”
A year ago at this stage of Wimbledon, Pospisil would have seen Milos Raonic win his quarter-final match against Nick Kyrgios while he himself was in the midst of a 3-14 losing skid since January. He was ranked No. 33 at the time and has struggled with various fitness issues over the last 12 months. His ranking bottomed out at No. 63 in February.
Now, post Wimbledon, it will be about No. 30, half of what it was five months ago, and slightly better than at the end of Wimbledon 2014.
All Vasek Pospisil fans will agree with the words of Milos Raonic’s coach Ivan Ljubicic, a former world No. 3. “It’s a fantastic tournament for him,” said the 36-year-old Croat. “We can talk about a good draw and stuff, but you have to win those matches coming back from two sets to love. I’m happy for him. Honestly and seriously because he’s great guy and he’s had so many injuries and difficulties. I hope he’s going to build on this.”
Shapovalov out of singles
Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ontario, the last Canadian junior in the singles at Wimbledon was eliminated on Wednesday. After a pair of impressive wins, he was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by No. 10 seed William Blumberg of the U.S.
Gilles Simon is one of the more analytical thinkers on the men’s tour.
After his loss to Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, he waxed philosophical about Federer and about the future of the serve-and-volley game and court surfaces. “This is the best place for him,” Simon said about Federer, “because the points are short. His serve-and-volley game allows him to keep the points short.
“At this stage in his career, he doesn’t like long rallies – not like at the US Open last year against Monfils (when he needed to save two match points to survive against the Frenchman). Best-of-five sets is not the best for him now.”
On the subject of court speed and serve-and-volley tennis, Simon suggested, “if you make the courts faster to see more serve-and-volley – you’re going to see more (just) serves. I’m all for faster surfaces so there’ll be more all-round games. But when we get two big servers and they play each, we’ll all probably fall asleep.”
“Let them eat Elsanta and Sonata,” that might be the cry from the Royal Box at Wimbledon when it comes to the always-topical subject of strawberries.
A recent piece in the Daily Mail revealed that Royal Box patrons get a “very premium berry with a sweet taste,” a variety called “Jubilee.” Nothing but the best for the Royal Box.
NOTE: Last blog from Wimbledon – will be back next Monday (the 13th) with blogs from the Canadian Davis Cup tie in Ostend, Belgium.
Feature photo credit: Susan Mullane