After a 2016 season that featured very few highs and far too many lows, No. 2 Canadian tennis player Vasek Pospisil has cleared the decks for a fresh start in 2017.
And the first order of business was to find a new coach, after the 26-year-old from Vernon, B.C. parted ways with longtime mentor Frédéric Fontang last July.
After considering a few options, Pospisil tells Eh Game that he has made a decision and settled upon Hall of Famer Mark Woodforde, a 51-year-old Australian based in the Palm Springs, Calif. area, as his coach for 2017.
Woodforde arrives in Paris Friday to begin a two-week trial that is more a formality than anything else, one that offers Pospisil an opportunity to get a head start on the off-season training period.
"I'm eager to have a specific focus and direction on where to take my game," said Pospisil, currently ranked No. 112 in singles and on the cusp of direct entry into January's Australian Open. That means he's also on the cusp of having to qualify for a major for the first time since the 2013 French Open.
Pospisil lost in the first round of qualifying last weekend in Basel, Switzerland after experiencing some pain in his back halfway through his match against Mischa Zverev of Germany. It was in the same location as it was at the start of the 2014 season, when he had to default to Stan Wawrinka both in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour warmup event in Chennai and in the third round in Melbourne. So it was difficult to focus although in the end, the level of severity wasn't nearly as high.
He is unlikely to get into the qualifying at the Paris Masters with his ranking, although he will play doubles with former No. 1 Marcelo Melo of Brazil. Pospisil will then head to Bratislava, Slovakia to play a Challenger, again with Woodforde at his side.
Pospisil told Eh Game that getting his ranking high enough for direct entry into Australia isn't a priority although he will try. He said that he'll accept his year-end ranking, whatever it turns out to be, and will go from there. The cutoff for the Australian Open comes in early December; there are a couple of additional Challengers he could play in the U.S. later in November, if he wants to make a final push.
During his playing career, Woodforde was that rare hybrid player who was outstanding on the doubles court but also accomplished in singles. The lefty reached No. 19 in singles and won four ATP Tour titles during his career. In doubles, he was a longtime No. 1 with countryman Todd Woodbridge. He has 67 titles on his resumé and is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame on the strength of 17 Grand Slam doubles titles.
Until the Bryan brothers came along, he and Woodbridge were the winningest duo in the Open era; they lost to Canadians Daniel Nestor and Sébastian Lareau in the gold-medal match at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Based in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Woodforde has done a lot of coaching over the last 15 years, including stints as coach of the Australian junior Davis Cup team and the Fed Cup team (in 2003-2004). He has worked individually with several Aussie players, including Marinko Matosevic and Matthew Ebden, as well as Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei. Most recently, Woodforde worked with French veteran Nicolas Mahut this summer – another highly-accomplished doubles player who has made an impressive surge in singles late in his career.
Pospisil and Woodforde discussed a potential collaboration at the US Open, and have just now finalized the details.
The Canadian will have a busy off-season rebuilding a team – all the more important for him given that staying healthy has been such a challenge. He told Eh Game that he is reviewing and evaluating all aspects of his setup and is even considering a potential relocation of his training base, which has been in Bradenton, Fla. for many years.
That's a move, if it happens, that could prove beneficial. As a training base, it offers a variety of practice partners through the IMG Academy. But the extreme heat and humidity in Florida in the summer can be kryptonite to Pospisil, who notoriously struggles in those conditions and may well be able to train longer and harder in a dryer climate.
All of that is yet to be determined. But with the decision on a new coach made, he's off to a positive start.