Far from the headlines and feverish patriotism accompanying Eugenie Bouchard’s marvellous trip to the finals at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic’s first-time advance to the semi-finals, an even more improbable Canadian story unfolded, and his name is Vasek Pospisil. Together with his doubles partner, a 21-year old Nebraksan with the great name of Jack Sock, the unheralded duo, playing the tennis of their young lives, went all the way to the finals, completely below the radar of the Canadian media. There, on Wimbledon’s fabled centre court, they vanquished perhaps the best men’s doubles team in history, the experienced, mighty Bryan twins, Bob and Mike, who have been Number One in the world for the past seven years. It was as unlikely an upset as The Miracle on Ice. In the words of one commentator: “They beat the unbeatable.”
Not only that, PopSock, as they came to be known, did so in an enthralling, five-set nail biter that, by the end, had the packed grandstand in an uproar, watching the teams’ fortunes ebb and flow with almost every shot. Yet Pospisil and Sock never looked rattled. In fact, they seemed to enjoy every moment of their unexpected time on the most famous stage in tennis, one known to buckle the knees of those appearing there for the first time. Befitting their relatively tender years, they grinned and laughed through much of the three-hour match, as if pinching themselves that this was not some crazy dream and they were really there. Asked how he handled the unexpected experience of playing a final at Wimbledon, Pospisil said: “You close your eyes and hope you play the best tennis of your life.” Meanwhile, the tight-lipped Bryans must have been wondering, along with everyone else: “Who are these guys?”
Pospisil, 24, and Sock had never played together, they entered the doubles at the last moment, almost as a lark, and now they are Wimbledon champions, a fairy tale ride that saw them vanquish three top seeded teams along the way. Sports rarely gets better than this. The bemused British TV commentator quickly dubbed them: “The Boys from Nowhere.”
Of course, Vasek Pospisil isn’t quite from nowhere. He hails from good old Vernon, where I spent one of my happiest years in newspapers. And, while playing in the very large shadow of big-serving, fellow Canadian and No. 6-ranked Milos Raonic, he’s been showing promise for a while now. I first noticed him during Canada’s series of Davis Cup matches out at UBC Good serve, aggressive groundstrokes, adept at the net with his cat-like reflexes, and very athletic. But what really stood out for me was his ability to produce under pressure. During an epic, critical doubles victory against Italy that went to 15-13 in the fifth set, Pospisil, teamed with the legendary Daniel Nestor, never succumbed to nerves. In fact, he was the stronger of the two, coming up with fierce serves and powerful winners just when they were needed most. There’s a never-say-die quality to the fresh-faced youth that is eminently appealing. I like to call him “Plucky” Pospisil.
Last year, he finally began to make a mark in singles, too. Though it was barely noticed, amid all the deserved hoopla for Raonic, Pospisil slowly rose to a world ranking of Number 25. Applying the same cool and command he displays in doubles, he began being seeded in tournaments. Then, alas, he hurt his back, and virtually disappeared from view. Now he’s back. And his name is on a trophy that goes back to 1884. Wonderful.