Richmond Hill, Ont.'s Peter Polansky qualifies for the BNP Paribas Open

Eh Game
Richmond Hill, Ont.'s Peter Polansky qualifies for the BNP Paribas Open
Richmond Hill, Ont.'s Peter Polansky qualifies for the BNP Paribas Open

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Peter Polansky's singles ranking stands at No. 542, although he was able to get into the qualifying at the BNP Paribas Open by virtue of an injury-protected ranking because of a long layoff following wrist surgery a year ago.

His opponent, Marcel Arevalo of El Salvador, is currently ranked No. 315.

What an opportunity for both to reach the main draw of a tournament the size of Indian Wells, a Masters 1000 event that is arguably the biggest tournament around outside the Grand Slams.

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Polansky squeezed through, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 17 minutes Tuesday evening. It is his first main draw at the ATP Tour level since July, 2014 in Bógota, Colombia, which is a much smaller event.

Here's how it played out; opponent Arevalo, who was on the other side of the net a couple of weeks ago at a Challenger in Mexico when Polansky and countryman Philip Bester won the doubles title, was physically hampered by the end of it.

Both were nervous; Polansky just held it together a little better.

Polansky has qualified at Grand Slams a couple of times. But his appearances at the Masters 1000 level have been rare beyond the occasions he's been given wild cards into the Rogers Cup.

He qualified in Montreal in 2013 and pushed Kei Nishikori of Japan to three sets. He had one other Masters 1000-level main draw appearance until now; that came here two years ago, when he posted two good wins and came awfully close to defeating another solid player, Juan Mónaco of Argentina, before losing 6-4 in the third set of his first round in the main draw

His first-round opponent this time, drawn at random from the spots in the draw allocated to qualifiers, is a tough one: Spain's Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco, a former top-10 player, defeated Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open earlier this year.

Polansky didn't know his fate when he spoke to Eh Game after the victory.

Polansky has earned $6,650 US in singles so far this season, and $2,900 US in doubles.

Even if he loses in the first round here, he will go home with $11,970 US. That's a sum that will help a lot with expenses over the next month or two, since he's not one of the Canadian players who gets much, if any, financial assistance from Tennis Canada.

Polansky didn't get the call to go to Guadeloupe last weekend, once Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor's absences were confirmed. Instead, his doubles partner Philip Bester was selected even though Bester hadn't played Davis Cup for five years, while Polansky has typically been the next to be asked if one of the higher-ranked players couldn't answer the bell in recent years.

He thought he might get the call this time, but it worked out well for him. Bester, who also was entered in the qualifying here, had to scramble to travel to the California desert from Guadeloupe (there is no simple way to do this), and make the transition from hot and extremely humid and red clay to cool evening desert temperatures and a hard court.

Bester lost in the first round Monday to the No. 20 seed, Josef Kovalik of the Czech Republic, ranked No. 182.

At one point, he was kicking (imaginary) clay off his shoes The turnaround was just too quick, and it was a shame; Bester played well in Guadeloupe against players of a calibre he hasn't often seen in recent years on the minor-league circuit.

The other Canadian in the qualifying, Aleksandra Wozniak, posted a solid first-round victory over up-and-coming 18-year-old Ana Konjuh of Croatia. But she had a dispiriting loss in the second and final round Tuesday. Up 4-2 in the first set against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, Wozniak lost 6-4, 6-2.

Until things starting going sour, Wozniak was executing a pretty good game plan against a hard hitter. She wasn't giving her much to work with, and she was changing the pace a lot. The result was that Bertens was making a lot of errors.

Suddenly, though, Wozniak abandoned most of that and simply tried to hit with Bertens. The difference was that the Dutchwoman has a pretty good serve; Wozniak, who was rotating her surgically-repaired shoulder around at moments during the match as if it was giving her trouble, was dropping in first serves at 80 mph. at times. She was on her back foot from the start of the point during most of her service games.

She doesn't often show signs of exasperation and frustration, but she did here.

The Canadian displayed a lot of frustration with her game during her first-round qualifying loss at Indian Wells Tuesday. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
The Canadian displayed a lot of frustration with her game during her first-round qualifying loss at Indian Wells Tuesday. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

As with Bester, it was a golden opportunity, but she couldn't take advantage of it.

Stil, Wozniak has made progress in the rankings in recent weeks. Just by winning one qualifying match at a tournament of this size, she will still earn 20 WTA Tour ranking points, enough to raise her ranking from its current No. 628 to approximately No. 500. 

To put that in perspective, she won nine matches at a pair of $25,000 tournaments going into this week. She earned a combined 16 points for all that effort, and about $1,000. She earned $3,500 for winning one match here (all figures in US dollars).

When Wozniak began the 2016 season after missing more than a year after shoulder surgery in Sept. 2014, she was outside the top 850. So she's making progress. With her injury-protection ranking of No. 108, she can get a look at a few more big tournaments in the coming months.

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