Columnist image
Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

|Archive

The All England Club announced Wednesday that the Wimbledon Championships, scheduled to start June 29, will not be held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the first time since the Second World War in 1945 that the world's premier grass-court event won't be staged.

"I wasn't really too surprised," said ATP Player Council member Vasek Pospisil. "It was one of those decisions that was expected, especially with all the tournaments being cancelled left, right and centre. It doesn't look like there will be tennis anytime soon so it was an announcement that was bound to happen ... there's no doubt it’s the right call."

It was an expected decision taken for the right reasons, but it still hit hard for Pospisil, who won the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title alongside Jack Sock and also made the singles quarterfinals in 2015, his best result at any major. 

"It's the biggest tournament in the world," he said. "It's the most prestigious tennis event out there with so much history. For me, it was a dream to play Wimbledon. I don't want to overstate it, because there's four grand slams, but when you think of tennis you think of one tournament and it's Wimbledon. Like, Wimbledon is tennis. You know, for me at least, that's kind of how I look at it."


Also on Wednesday, the ATP and WTA announced all events at all levels have been cancelled through July 13. Tennis is a global sport with players from all over the world converging at different tournaments in different countries so it may be one of the last sports to return to regular events.  


"To be honest, I would be surprised if there was any play at least before the fall or late summer just with the way things are going," Pospisil said. "I feel like even in a best-case scenario, let's say this pandemic really starts slowing down and there's fewer cases and the curve starts to flatten, there will still be a very long period of caution that I would expect the governing bodies around the world to take into consideration. I'm a very optimistic person in general, that's my nature, but I also try to be pretty realistic ... I'd be pretty surprised if there was any tennis this summer."

It will be up to Pospisil and other Council members to help the ATP Tour move forward in these uncertain times. Among the pressing concerns, how to support lower-ranked players dealing with economic hardships. Also on the docket, devising a new rankings system to take into account the season pause. Pospisil spoke to TSN via Skype on Wednesday from Whistler, B.C., and shared some insight on what the Council is considering at the moment. The 29-year-old also reflected on a strong start to his season, which saw him surge back into the top 100 with the help of some maple syrup.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

What's life on the Player Council like right now? How busy are you? 

"You have guys ranked below 100, let's say 100 to 300 or lower even, that suddenly are really struggling to kind of get by. The guys who are ranked top 100 and a little higher, we at least have financial security, so that's an issue that's pressing. That's something they need to take into consideration very quickly and I think that is where we can give a little bit of feedback and ideas, because we're representing the players and looking out for their best interests. 


"On top of that, I can't imagine all the moving parts logistically and how complicated this matter (tour suspension) is and they're dealing with that internally and we're giving very little feedback for those matters as should be the case, because that's not our speciality, that's not what we do and I don't think our opinion on those internal matters are valuable. So, we're not actually having too many calls. Our last one was seven or eight days ago and it was specifically on the player matter side so I expect our next call to be in a few days or maybe next week. I get a lot of people who are like, 'You must be so busy with all this,' but actually we're maybe even less busy, because the ATP is just dealing with so much more than some of the player matters."

What are some of the ideas to help players in financial need? 

"I know the ATP is coming up with something. They've been telling us, 'Guys, standby, we're going to have something for the general player group, some ideas that we'll share with you shortly.' So we're waiting and giving them time, because we understand this is not an easy situation. I've had some some conversations internally and there's different ways we can approach it. Maybe something from the pension plan, maybe the ATP has some funds that we're not even aware about that are for extreme cases, we're not sure, or maybe it's from the ATP Tour Finals. I'm not sure we'll even have an ATP Finals even if the tour does start again. The whole concept of that event at the end of the year is that you have a full season and the best eight players duke it out for a lot of money and points, but if you only have a few months of the calendar maybe then suddenly that event doesn't have as much credibility, because it would only be based on a few months of events so maybe there's some funds that could be taken from that and given to the lower-ranked guys. So, there's a lot of different ways you can approach it, but it's all pending right now."

Will the French Tennis Federation face any penalty for unilaterally moving the dates of Roland Garros?

"The discussion about a penalty is being had right now, for sure, full transparency on that. The issue that we had and when I say 'we' I mean the tennis community ... is not the actual postponement of the event. I think it went without saying that nobody was expecting the French Open to be played at the time it was initially scheduled so postponing was always going to be something that was discussed. The issue was they took the decision unilaterally and went on their own without discussing things with the governing bodies in tennis, the other grand slams, the players or anybody. I mean, they just did it themselves and my theory is, and it's relatively logical, they figured they'd ask for forgiveness rather than permission, because they think they may have never gotten that slot and maybe other tournaments wouldn't have agreed to it so they didn't want to take that risk. They were looking out just for themselves and weren't worried about everybody being on the same team in this situation. It was a very surprising ... and definitely doesn't set a good precedent so I wouldn't be surprised if there was some fallout from that decision."

Is it possible the ATP won't award points for the French Open? Is that something being considered? 

"That would be one approach, for sure. This is not something the players are discussing, to be honest. Everybody has their own opinion. I have my own opinion and, of course, I'm all about fairness, transparency, working together so I do feel there has to be a penalty. Whether it's about points, I don't know. Whether it's financial, I'm not sure ... this is something the ATP, I'm sure, is dealing with. I'm sure they understand the kind of precedent a decision like that will make so I'm sure it's on their radar and we'll see what comes from it. There have to be some kind of repercussions for that, for sure."


When it comes to the rankings is it just the freeze is the freeze and everybody stays put until play resumes or are there other ideas for that? 

"This is probably where we're most involved in giving feedback from the player side and the Council and that was, specifically, what we were discussing on the last call, floating around ideas. The ATP had done a lot of work to come up with their three best formulas and options so they have three we're all looking at right now. There's no rush to make a decision on that since there's no tennis and the rankings aren't moving around right now, they've put a freeze on them until it’s decided how they're going to calculate the rankings moving forward. Obviously, there's so many variables depending on when tennis starts up again. The No. 1 most important thing is that it's fair all across the board for all the players, because different players could be hurt at different ranking levels and different parts of the season depending on what option you go with. There's an option there that seems to be the most fair across the board, but for now it's internal and we'll hopefully come up with something soon."

OK, let's talk about some actual tennis. You've raised your ranking 53 spots since play opened in January. What's clicking? 

“Pretty much since my comeback (from back surgery last summer), I've really been playing great tennis. When I took eight months off tour, I didn't hold a racquet for five months, I just had a little reset in my life. I came back fully healthy, no issues and that's the first time in five or six years I felt that. I had a new team around me, a fitness trainer. And then, also, just I came back with a new perspective on the sport and my life. I was very busy during the time that I was injured so I gave myself security and confidence so when I came back on the court I was a little more relaxed.

I was more relaxed because I feel like I have my identity and I know what I'm going to do after my career so I put less pressure on myself on the court. Also, just being so excited to be on the court, because I didn't know if I’d ever be playing at a high level, all those different variables come into play. I feel like I'm playing some of the best tennis I've ever played and hopefully I don't gain too much weight and I'm able to stay fit (smile) and obviously I will and I'll be ready to roll again once the tour starts. But that's not something on my radar now, because of what's going on and there's other priorities that need to be taken care of world-wide and even for myself so tennis is on hold and there are more important things than sport, obviously.”


You created quite a buzz on social media by drinking maple syrup during matches. Were you surprised how much attention you received? 

“Totally surprised. I've had people ask me, 'Oh, that was hilarious, did you script that?' And, honestly, the story behind it is I just ran out of energy gels in my semifinal match (in Montpellier), because I used like 10 of them and I was playing the finals on Sunday and everything was closed in France. I thought I'd be able to go out and buy something. I travel with maple syrup and I use it religiously on everything almost, but never actually used it on the tennis court. My physio and I were brainstorming and we're like, yeah, I can use my maple syrup, no problem. And I didn't think anything of it, because I'm just used to using it on everything. I'm Canadian and it's maple syrup, no big deal. It wasn't until after the match and it went viral, it wasn’t until then that I realized it was pretty hilarious. It was a funny time. I wasn't expecting that to happen.”


You hinted on Twitter before Indian Wells got called off that you'd be playing doubles with Sock for the first time since 2016. Whenever tennis returns will the PopSocks doubles team be reunited? 

"Yeah, I think so. We planned to play Indian Wells and Miami, we were excited about it and made a little announcement on social media. We didn't have any concrete plans in terms of playing throughout the season. We were just going to play Indian Wells and Miami and see how it goes, but now that we've built some hype, at least in the doubles world, it's pretty safe to say we'll definitely come back and play a couple events and take it from there. I'm excited to play with Jack again. Obviously, we had an amazing run and had a great time when we were on the court and I was away from the doubles court a little bit the last few years, because my singles ranking dropped a bit so I'm hoping I can play more doubles."


TSN is airing some classic matches to fill the time until the tour returns. Certainly, your Wimbledon championship match with Jack against the Bryan brothers in 2014 may be on the list. What matches would you want featured? 

"Good question. Definitely that one would be one of them. I would say when I beat Andy Murray when he was world No. 1 at Indian Wells a few years ago. I think when I played Tomas Berdych at the Rogers Cup, that was my first top-10 win, back in 2013 before my little run and then some of the Davis Cup highlight reel, I've had quite a few great Davis Cup moments, playing doubles with Daniel (Nestor) and singles wins, even this last Davis Cup. Those are my top picks off the top of my head. It's been a wild ride and hopefully there will be more of those kinds of matches to come."