MELBOURNE – As the No. 22 seed in the Australian Open qualifying, Canadian Peter Polansky couldn’t have hoped to get in as a lucky loser – especially as, so far, there has only been one on the men’s side.
But the veteran journeyman caught a break, after a really tough three-set loss to teenager Andrey Rublev of Russia in the final round of qualifying. He won the lucky loser lottery and drew No. 30 seed Pablo Carreño Busta in the first round of the main draw.
Unfortunately, Polansky and Carreño Busta caught the hottest part of a brutally hot day at the Australian Open. And after being up two sets to one when it really hit him, he retired early in the fifth, with the score 6-0, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 3-0.
“The back wasn’t a big issue; I felt like one of my joints was jammed in the back. I felt it a little bit on my serve when I was landing. It wasn’t a big deal. I was serving fine, my groundstrokes, didn’t bother me whatsoever. After he worked on it, it actually felt a lot better,” he said. “Just overheating. I couldn’t … towards the end of the second set I started feeling a bit dizzy. I was trying to use the ice towel and take my time. But I was serving really well, so just, like, just hang on with your serve and maybe you’ll get a break. And I did.
“But at the end of that third set, I felt completely gassed.”
Carreño Busta wasn’t exactly in top form himself; it seemed as though the heat got to the taller Spaniard earlier in the match, but didn’t affect him quite as badly. When it got to Polansky (who played in 42C in Adelaide earlier this month in losing to Aussie teenager Omar Jasika in the quarterfinal of a Challenger).
“I would take one or two steps and felt like I would completely pass out. It was gradual; we had a couple of long rallies in the second set, really took a lot of me. I think it took a lot out of him too. He looked tired – then all of sudden, a couple of games where I was down love-40 and I came back. I felt like that took a lot out of me as well,” he said. “Just trying so hard to fight but I couldn’t do it. I was trying my best. My body physically couldn’t do it.”
After the fourth set, Polansky didn’t have too many options. So he took a strategic bathroom break (you really have to want to work that strategy, because the facilities out near Court 19 are, well, rudimentary at best).
“I sat on the toilet with an ice pack on my head for about two minutes, and came back,” he said. “Tried to give it a good start. Tried couple of points, and right away … BOOM, after one or two balls, just dead. That’s the only way to put it. At the end, I couldn’t continue. I was, ‘Why am I killing myself? I might fall over. Just finish it.’ “
It was a great opportunity lost for Polansky, who finally caught a break.
At the US Open a few years ago, he ended up drawing the top spot in the lucky loser lottery – but no one pulled out of the main draw. This time, with the top four-ranked final-round qualifying losers to be thrown into the pot, it seemed he was on the way to have four others ahead of him and be shut out.
So far, there has been only one lucky loser in the tournament. And Polansky has been playing well enough for a few months now to have belief that he could beat a player like Carreño Busta. Had he played Monday, or Wednesday, with far more copacetic conditions, he might have begun writing a really nice story.
On the positive side, getting into the main draw is a serious financial boost to start Polansky’s season. The Richmond Hill, Ont. native made a shade under $100,000 in 2016 – more than 10 per cent of that from winning the Challenger event in Gatineau in the summer. He’s already nearly halfway there after just a few weeks of 2017 (first-round losers in singles earn $50,000 AU). He’ll also boost his ranking nearly 20 spots, bringing it very close to his career best of No. 122.