The self-belief paid off. With an opportunity to close out world No. 1 Andy Murray in a second-set tiebreak on Saturday night at the BNP Paribas Open, in what would surely be the biggest win of his decade-long career, Vasek Pospisil — relegated to qualifier status after having fallen to a lowly No. 129 — didn’t tighten up, didn’t take his foot off the proverbial pedal.
Instead, the Canadian, once ranked as high as No. 25 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, stuck to his game plan. It’s what got him to that point, after all. He’d played a refreshingly aggressive brand of tennis, mixing in a serve-and-volley approach with solid play from the backcourt.
"I was telling myself — especially in the tiebreak — whatever the score is, I don't want to have any regrets," Vasek explained. "I don't want to come out of the match thinking, ‘Oh, why did I play a passive point when I'm playing one of the best baseliners ever?’ I didn't want to have regrets. If I lost that tiebreak, I would have been okay with it if I had tried to take my chances."
That do-or-die tactic would result in a stunning 6-4, 7-6(5) victory, leaving Murray to ponder his shortcoming in Indian Wells, a tournament he has yet to win in 12 career appearances.
"[It’s an] amazing feeling," said Pospisil, who only weeks ago was playing a Challenger final in San Francisco in front of a sparse crowd. "I feel like I’m on a comeback trail. I had a tough year last year for many, many different reasons. I feel the last couple months I really found my hunger and my motivation to be back on the court training hard again. So I have been very pleased with that, more than anything, the last few weeks, the last couple of months. I felt like a big result was coming, because I believe in my abilities, but I just kind of had to put the pieces together again. To beat the No. 1 player in the world is incredible. I mean, it's the biggest win of my career, and I'm just thrilled right now."
It’s not as if Pospisil lacks big match experience. He joined American Jack Sock to win the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014. But on the singles court, he was a dismal 3-20 over his career against Top-10 opponents coming into Saturday’s second-round affair, including 11 straight losses. He’d been a Top-50 regular the past few years, part of a new generation of Canadian talent that included power player Milos Raonic. But he all but fell off the map in 2016, falling as low as No. 137. While he wasn’t willing to go into detail, Pospsil did hint that there has been some inner turmoil.
"Oh, just personal things, professional things," he said. "It was a very distracting year — a lot of stuff going on off the court. Just wasn't myself really, the player that I have been my whole career, loving competition and being out there. Just kind of went through a little bit of a lull personally, and just kind of found my hunger again. That actually lasted for a very long time, almost the whole year, a long period of time. I learned a lot about myself. Honestly, it was a good year in that aspect if I look at it. I feel like I came out a little bit more wise about life, about myself. I think that's why I'm enjoying my time on the court so much more these days. The last few months I have been kind of stopping myself during matches and realizing how happy I am to even be competing and playing tennis. So I think last year was a learning process, learning curve. I think that everybody goes through it to some degree. I mean, I think everybody has those kinds of periods in their lives, and mine was last year."
Amidst the turmoil, Pospisil stopped working with his longtime coach, Frederic Fontang, and hired Hall of Famer Mark Woodforde, who’s based not far from the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
"Mark, he's a wise coach. He has a lot of wisdom and he's been around for many years," said Pospisil, who spent his offseason training in the Southern California desert. "He was a great singles player himself. Doubles, that goes without saying — he’s one of the doubles greats. But he was a very accomplished singles player, and I felt like he could help me kind of discover more about my game and how I want to play. He's been a great addition, and I'm very pleased with the progress that we have made so far. Obviously, everything takes time. So the first couple months we were still learning a lot about each other, and now it seems that things are going the right direction."