With five wins from seven matches in the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, Vasek Pospisil became, along with Denis Shapovalov, the great Canadian hero who gave his country the first final in its history. At the age of 30, he already has a wealth of experience in the competition and shares the team's enormous potential.
He reached number 25 in the world in 2014 but injuries have marked a career full of ups and downs. This doesn’t detract from the quality of his tennis, demonstrated by the sensational competition week he completed in Madrid in 2019. He knows that together with Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime the team can achieve their dream of giving Canada its first title.
What distinguishes the Davis Cup from other competitions?
When you’re playing Davis Cup for your nation and you’re playing with the team there are so many more emotions… Suddenly your match means so much more so there’s more pressure but there’s also much more reward and you feel like if you win, or you have a good match or the team does well, you’re really sharing that joy between all the players and the country. I’m an emotional guy, I love it. I love the Davis Cup.
Do you remember when you first heard about it?
That’s hard… I would say one of the first times was actually not a live match but I just heard that Daniel Nestor had beaten the number one player in the world, Stefan Edberg, and it was a Davis Cup match.
What does it mean for players to be able to compete in the Davis Cup?
I think for an athlete in general any time that you represent your country it’s something so unique, so incredible. It’s such an honour, it’s such a unique event and experience and you really feel the electric atmosphere of the crowd and you feel the whole nation behind you, which is super special. In tennis it’s rare, it’s really just Davis Cup where you have that feeling. And the Olympics, once every four years, but Davis Cup is definitely a very different, unique, very special event.
“I have to give credit to the fans that came from Canada and made the long trip over. It felt like they were a part of our success and part of the team by the end of the week.”
Canada played the final of the competition in 2019 for the first time in its history. Did you expect something like this when you arrived in Madrid?
In 2019 I had back surgery at the beginning of the year [and] I was off the tour for eight months... when I came back a few months before Davis Cup I was playing extremely well... I came in with a lot of confidence. I felt I was hitting the ball… well, I was very relaxed, very happy to be on the tennis court. But I had a great team around me. We had Felix and Denis that were both playing extremely well. Milos was injured, unfortunately he didn’t come, so I wasn’t sure if I would be playing singles, doubles… I was ready to play anything and everything and I was feeling confident and I felt like we could do well. We had such a dangerous, young team between Felix and Denis... so I knew that we could have a deep run… But it’s not so simple, you have to beat very good players and very good teams along the way, so it was just a pretty amazing week.
You mentioned Felix and Denis. Let's talk about them from your point of view and experience. Let's start with Felix. How would you describe him?
Felix is a very skilled, very talented player, he has a great future. I think one of the things with Felix that is most impressive for me is his physicality… the intensity that he brings on the court, you really feel that he’s breathing down your neck when you’re playing against him,(...) I think he can overwhelm a lot of opponents just because of his presence (...) I think just his work ethic, his attitude, how professional he is and of course his physical qualities definitely bode well for his future.
Denis is an amazing athlete, very quick, he reads the game well, he has a lot of these intangibles you need as a player to succeed at the highest level. He has that inner confidence, he goes for shots under pressure, he feels like he can hit winners off both sides, he’s super dangerous, great lefty serve and again, I think one of the biggest strengths is also his physicality... He moves incredibly well and again, mentally he has a little bit of that edge, where he goes on the court and you can see that he really believes that he can beat any player in the world, which he can. They’re both different players for sure Felix and Denis, but Denis has an incredible amount of potential and I think he’ll do some amazing things in the sport as well.
“Denis is an amazing athlete, very quick, he reads the game well, he has a lot of these intangibles you need as a player to succeed at the highest level. He has that inner confidence, he goes for shots under pressure, he feels like he can hit winners off both sides, he’s super dangerous...”
In the 2019 Finals you played a sensational week, combining singles and doubles. But in particular, how did it feel to walk on to court to play the doubles that could take you into the final on Sunday?
You definitely feel more pressure going into the doubles... if you’ve lost the singles. In that semi-final against Russia, I was confident enough.. and felt, ok, even though I lost the singles if I turn it around and play a good doubles match then we’ll make the final..., but… I definitely felt a bit more pressure that day in the semi-finals.
In the final, the Canadian captain chose Felix for the first singles. How did you deal with that decision? Were you ready to play?
I was ready to play the finals for sure. Felix was training hard and getting ready, I think he was probably already ready to play some of the earlier matches but I was… playing well and I had the momentum... And then in the final it was a strategic decision by the team and the captain to play Felix, and Felix was healthy, he was ready to go… But it’s a team event, so if my role is to play one day then I play and if the next day my role is to be on the bench and support and be there for my teammates then that’s what I do that day… Whoever plays it doesn’t matter, you go out there, you’re supporting. And Felix was ready to play, his ankle was back to 100% so he played the final.
“Felix is a very skilled player, very talented player, he has a great future. I think one of the things with Felix that is most impressive for me is his physicality… the intensity that he brings on the court, you really feel that he’s breathing down your neck when you’re playing against him”
And then came the deciding match, the one that gave Spain the title, between Rafa Nadal and Denis. What do you remember about that match?
“Denis was playing really well. I remember I thought that he was really going for his shots and... I remember the crowd being very loud... It was always going to be tough to beat Rafa at home in Madrid, in Spain, in the final of the Davis Cup... You think, ok he has to play the match of his career, of his life to win that and then we’re going to have to go and play doubles, and play maybe the match of our doubles lives to win that, so it was obviously a tough situation after Roberto had beaten Felix… But it was an entertaining match and you always feel like Rafa has a little bit of that edge when he’s playing. Even if he’s down a little bit or even if the score is close I think it’s quite the feat to beat him in Spain in Davis Cup.”
Let's talk about the crowd, and the sound and atmosphere of the Davis Cup. When you're on the court, do you manage to cut yourself off? Does it affect you?
“We definitely had some of the best cheering of the week. I think that definitely helped us big time. It was a big advantage, we always had a big section to turn to and look for energy and they were cheering non-stop throughout the whole week… so it definitely has a very positive impact… I love playing in front of a crowd and having support and I took a lot of energy from them and I feel that I played better… I have to give credit to the fans that came from Canada and made the long trip over. It felt like they were a part of our success and part of the team by the end of the week.”
In the 2019 Davis Cup Finals, it was not only Canada that chose very young players. Russia did too. Spain, on the other hand, still has a very old team. What do you make of that?
It’s interesting to see that you have the really young guys and then you have the old guys. It’s funny because they’re both playing for titles right now. I think players are staying healthier longer. Now everybody’s just taking care of their bodies so well and physiotherapy is going forward, everything is moving forward so I think it… prolongs... players’ careers. But it’s cool to see the next gen, [they] are inevitably going to take over the top of the rankings, slowly but surely, because as good as Rafa and Roger and Novak are they won’t be able to play forever.
Don’t miss out! Learn more about Vasek Pospisil and the Canadian team in the documentary Break Point: A Davis Cup Story. Access it here