MONTREAL – Peter Polansky covered a lot of ground to chase down a smash that fell deep into the deuce court, but he ended up barely getting his racket on it before sailing the ball a few centimeters over the net and wide into the doubles alley.
You couldn’t call the missed shot in the second game of the match a turning point in what became a stunning upset on centre court to close out the first day of action at the Rogers Cup, but Polansky’s early effort served notice to countryman Vasek Pospisil that he wasn’t going to be a pushover in this one.
The 29-year-old from North York, Ont., was anything but that, coming back from down 3-0 and 5-2 to win the first set 7-5 before putting the throttle down in a 6-2 second-set lambasting.
“I told myself to just kind of relax a little bit, get the ball up, keep it deep, keep in the point,” Polansky said of his early-match struggles, some 30 minutes after closing out the final point.
The result was a victory he could savour.
Consider what it means for a wild-card entrant who had played just 45 matches on the ATP Tour before stepping onto the main court for the featured match of the day: Money earned in a Masters series event for a player whose career earnings amount to a humble (by pro tennis standards) $888,518; a win on home soil; a win over a player ranked 41 spots ahead; a chance to play an all-time great in Roger Federer in Round 2 on Wednesday.
“For me it’s huge,” Polansky said. “I love it here, especially in Montreal. I love playing in front of the crowd on home soil. I couldn’t ask for a more meaningful first round, to play a fellow Canadian.”
And No. 116 in the world couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
Polansky was in a hole and he dug himself out with authority, pushing through one of the longest rallies of the match in the ninth game of the opening set to force a forehand error that broke Pospisil’s serve and seemingly broke his spirit.
“I don’t know what happened after that,” Pospisil said. “Completely shifted the momentum, and I completely disappeared.”
It was one of 10 straight games Polansky took and the first of four consecutive service breaks he pulled off.
He went on to win 90 per cent of his first-serve points, finding rhythm with his groundstrokes and forcing Pospisil to find a level of play he wasn’t up to.
“Now the second round is against Federer,” said Polansky. “It’s going to be extremely special regardless of the result. I’m going to go out there, fight hard, just give it what I got.”
He’s aware he’ll need all that and more.
His first encounter with Federer came three years ago in Toronto. It was a 6-2, 6-0 shellacking in favour of the Swiss master.
“I remember I was practising with him in Toronto, a couple of times here when I was younger,” Polansky said. “I do recall playing a couple practice points with him. I was pretty competitive in the points. But again, it was just practice.
“In 2014, when I was playing him in a match, I was going into the match with a certain mindset. It ended up being completely wrong with how I thought he was going to play. He was just much more aggressive. His intensity level was three or four notches higher than what it was in practice.”
Chalk it up as a valuable experience for Polansky, who gained another one on Monday.