RIO DE JANEIRO – When you had gold within your grasp less than 24 hours earlier, fourth place … sucks.
One opportunity was lost against Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez, but another chance awaited them against Americans Jack Sock and Steve Johnson for bronze.
In the end, Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor were denied a medal of any colour after a 6-2, 6-4 defeat that wasn’t as close as that score.
Pospisil and Nestor were flat, to be sure – who wouldn’t be after the emotions of the previous night in the Olympic men’s doubles semi-final? But more than that, they were outplayed.
Just when it seemed as though the Canadian men might get off the medals' schneid – and that it might be the nearly 44-year-old Nestor and the 26-year-old Pospisil who might give them a two-for-one special, it wasn't to be.
The Americans served brilliantly, returned incredibly well – especially Sock on the backhand side, which is supposed to be by far his weaker side – and seemed to anticipate every single thing the Canadians tried to throw at them.
But in the end, it was about the serve.
Sock and Johnson posted an 81 per cent first-serve rate. And they weren’t exactly lobbing it in, either. Although there were only four aces in all, there were exponentially more returns that sat up for easy putaways at the net. They lost just five points on their first serve, just two on their second. The Canadians just couldn’t get a look.
They won just two of 22 receiving points in the second set, and never sniffed a break point.
“They were seeing the ball big and putting a lot of pressure on us, and we couldn’t match it,” Nestor said. “I don’t really remember missing a return saying, ‘Oh well, that was an easy return missed. I can’t miss that.’ I felt like they were hitting their spots, hitting with good pace, and serving a high percentage. It was tough.”
Not a sentimental or introspective type publicly, Nestor had little interest in being drawn into narratives about this being his sixth and last Olympics, or how this experience compared to his gold-medal win in Sydney in 2000.
“I don’t know, not really thinking about that right now. A little bit upsetting being in fourth place after being in a medal position yesterday and now we’re walking away with nothing. So that’s all I’m thinking about,” he said.
They might have done it as juniors, but other than exhibition-type events like the Hopman Cup or other special events – and the ATP Tour Finals, which have a round-robin format – there aren’t many opportunities for pro players to come back the day following a crushing defeat and play again with something at stake.
Perhaps that’s a muscle you can sharpen into fitness if you do it often enough. But in this case, it proved a big challenge for the Canadians although the 43-year-old Nestor said they were ready, and that there was no hangover from the previous night’s loss.
One thing that can’t have escaped their notice was that unlike Thursday, when a couple of poor line calls that may have had a big impact on the outcome of the match could not be challenged, this bronze-medal contest was on a court with the Hawkeye technology.
Again, it sort of came back to bite them. In the very first game, a forehand by Johnson that was called out was overturned on appeal, and ended up being a clean winner that put Pospisil and Sock down love-40. The three volley errors in that game had more of an impact on them being broken at love right out of the gate but still, it didn’t help.
Pospisil and Nestor were in trouble in their first game of the second set, but managed to hold. They were down love-40 in their second service game, but managed to hold that one as well – despite another successful challenge from the Americans in the first point.
Nestor’s double-fault gave the Americans the break in the fifth game and after that, it was lights out on the American side.
“We’re a dynamic doubles team – not traditional by any means – but that suits well for us. We both have great forehands, serve well, move well and are athletic at the net. Those intangibles played well tonight,” Johnson said. “We won all those kind of crapshoot points, if you may, and Jack came up with some amazing balls through the middle.”
In their last two service games, Sock and Johnson put in eight consecutive first serves.
The dynamic had been talked about some in the leadup with Pospisil and Sock, who played together for several years and won the 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles title together, now squaring off on opposite sides of the net for an Olympic medal.
The comments from both of them about that dynamic couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed.
“It would have been fun experience if this match had been for gold and silver. Obviously it’s weird, it’s a little different when you play with a guy for two, 2 1/2 years straight, and now you’re on the other side of the net. But it probably won’t be the last time,” Sock said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t both maybe medal and finish the week strong.”
Pospisil said he considered Sock no different from any other opponent across the net.
“It wasn’t weird at all, to be honest. It was just someone else I was trying to beat,” he said. “I hadn’t played with him since Wimbledon. I played against him in (Toronto). Just another match we were trying to win, and it didn’t go our way.”