PARIS –"I don't know how many times I've lost last round in qualies the last three years," Canadian Peter Polansky said at the end of his last-round qualifying match in Paris Friday.
The answer to that question is: four.
Four times, Polansky didn't drop a set in his first two qualifying matches. Four times, Polansky didn't win a set in the third and final round – with a spot in a Grand Slam and at least a big first-round prize money cheque dangling in front of him like a tasty viennoiserie.
2011 Australian Open: lost to Vincent Millot (FRA) (Ranked No. 160)
2012 Australian Open: lost to Danai Udomchoke (No. 201)
2012 U.S. Open: lost to Maxime Authom (No. 192)
2013 Australian Open: Lost to Adrian Mannarino (No. 170)
This time, against Frenchman Jonathan Eysseric, the 25-year-old's story finally had a happy ending.
After saving a couple of set points in the first set, at which point he wouldn't be human if he didn't at least have a "Here we go again" thought cross his mind, Polansky defeated Eysseric 7-6 (2), 6-1 to move into the main draw at the French Open for only the second time in his career, the first time since his very first attempt back in 2009.
"When you have a good opportunity like this, where (Eysseric) beat the second seed in qualies (Thursday), theoretically on paper I should be beating him with our rankings, but you can’t think about that here," Polansky said. "The first set was really long and tough, he had some chances. And then he kind of broke down at the end, he started getting tired, I think. It was a very physical match."
The building block for this one may have been an early evening match Thursday against Jan Mertl of the Czech Republic, in the second round. It wasn't a straight-set win, per his previous pattern. It was a dogfight.
Polansky was up 6-3, 2-0 – then proceeded to lose the next seven games. He was down a break point in the eighth game, too. And then, somehow, he pulled it out 6-4 in the third set.
It's the kind of runaway train of a match Polansky has sometimes been powerless to stop during his career.
"At that point I was just, like, 'You got to hang in there.' He was stepping in and I had to try to push him enough to get back in play. Those kind of matches you have to keep fighting until the end, and if you lose you lose," he said.
Polansky has a good serve, moves beautifully around the court and hits the ball as well as a lot of players ranked above him. There's no logical reason his peak should be right about where it is now, at No. 137 in the world (although he'll jump to a new career best of about No. 128 with the wins so far this week).
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The biggest issue is belief, confidence. It always has been.
On this day, he may have come up against a player whose belief level is even lower than his. Eysseric, like Polansky, had a very good junior career – he won the 2007 U.S. Open junior doubles title with countryman Jerôme Inzerillo, defeating a couple of fellows you might since have heard of: Canadian Vasek Pospisil and current world No. 12 Grigor Dimitrov, in the final.
But he has toiled on the Futures and Challenger circuits for the last few years. He's ranked No. 237 now, but has never made it into the top 200. His best effort was a couple of weeks ago, when he played a qualifying match at a Challenger in Aix-en-Provence, France on a Sunday, won it, scooted about 90 minutes away to Grasse where he was in the final of a Futures event, won that – then scooted back to Aix-en-Provence to play another qualifying match the next day.
He's a talented lefty with good hands and good wheels. But he also made a set's worth of unforced errors with his forehand, according to the scoreboard stats during the match.
Polansky said he didn't even see those stats. And that was probably a good thing; he certainly had enough to think about given the occasion.
What Polansky did do, however, was go for it. He cracked the ball – far more than he had in his first two matches.
"I knew he was kind of a baseliner and wouldn’t be hitting too many winners," Polansky said. "I’ve been feeling good with my forehand so I was just trying to hit the s__t out of it and put him on the defence."
To the theory that perhaps he had already filled his quota of hard-luck losses, Polansky said, "I think so, too. I hope so. I'm going to try to get some good wins now in the main draw."
NOTE: The other Canadian in the final round of men's qualifying was Frank Dancevic. He couldn't join Polansky, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil in the main draw after coming up a little short against tough clay-courter Potito Starace of Italy. Dancevic, who did get back even after being down 1-4 in the second set, went down 6-4, 7-5. Dancevic had beaten Starace in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open; this time, he was playing on Starace's "home" turf, the red clay.