February 20, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Canadian Philip Bester to retire

The arc of Canadian Philip Bester’s career is not an unusual one. 

But we don’t hear the stories of the players who don’t make it big nearly as often as we do those of the rare ones who do.

Bester, now 28, announced at the Granby Challenger Wednesday night that he is retiring from professional tennis. His last tournament will be the Odlum Brown Van Open in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada in a few weeks.

He lost in the first round of singles to No. 6 seed Yasatuka Uchiyama, 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday. But he’s still alive in the doubles with compatriot Peter Polansky. (Ed: Bester and Polansky gave their opponents a walkover in the quarterfinals Thursday)

As a three-time doubles champion in Granby, and a singles finalist in 2015, Bester wanted to say a few words to the crowd there. The Granby fans have always supported him, even though he’s an English-speaking Canadian from the other side of the country.

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“I am at peace with this decision and excited to move forward and pursue the next challenges and opportunities in my life. I would like to thank my family for all the sacrifices and support they have made and given me throughout my career,” he said. “A special thank you …to all the countless people who have stood by my side through thick and thin and believed in me not only as a player but also as a person with their support.”

Bester currently is at No. 456 in singles; his career best ranking was No. 225 two years ago. He has won nine ITF singles titles and played Davis Cup for Canada. 

Much early promise

But there was a time when so much more was expected of the stylish, all-around player with the sweet one-handed backhand.

He was a top-10 junior back in 2006, a kid who trained at the famed Nick Bollettieri Academy. He won a huge number of matches in doubles with countryman Peter Polansky.  

Bester reached the final of the French Open juniors that year, losing to Slovakian lefty Martin Klizan (a staple in the top-50 on the ATP Tour for many years).

Canadian tennis fans have been spoiled in recent years with the exploits of Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Genie Bouchard and Filip Peliwo in the juniors. But Bester was the first to reach a Grand Slam junior final.

At 16, he reached the doubles final of this same Granby Challenger paired with fellow Canadian Frank Dancevic. At 17, he was already playing Davis Cup.

Bester was signed up by IMG. And he got a lot of perks from that, including some wild cards into their events – as many of the young players signed by that agency do. That included wild cards into the qualifying at the Miami Open when he was 17 and 18. He got wild cards into the main draw of the Rogers Cup three straight years.

But after those heady moments, came the reality. Out in the pros, everyone is good. And once you hit 22 or 23, suddenly the agencies and your national federation stop being as bullish on your prospects. It’s a fairly arbitrary cutoff; the peak age for male tennis players is now much later than that, and there are plenty of late-career feel-good stories out there. But it’s a tough business.

Without that backing, that funding, it’s hard to travel and complete. It’s hard to get better. It’s impossible to make a living. And then, for Bester, the injuries hit. 

Knee, Achilles tendinopathy, you name it. The hip surgery (a torn labrum) cost him more than a year. And so many years in the soul-crushing world of the Futures wear on your psyche.

But Bester kept fighting. There were times over the last few years when he was playing cash tournaments just to keep going. He even played the Ojai tournament this spring in California. 

In the end, he never won a main-draw match at the ATP Tour level during his career. And he only made it to the Grand Slam level – in the qualifying – on two occasions: in Australia in 2011, and at the US Open in 2015. His career high in doubles was No. 140.

Another tennis foot soldier

Bester is in good company in not being able to translate early promise into a long, successful career at the ATP Tour level. He’s in the majority there; the ones who get to the top are the exceptions.

It’s a little ironic that his longtime junior doubles partner Polansky, who was also a standout junior and has faced injury issues and struggles of his own, has never played better.

Polansky, four months older, is at a career-high No. 118 in the singles rankings this week. He’s not a better player; he just ended up on the good side of some of the breaks along the way.

None of this means that Bester hasn’t had a successful career. When you win titles – at any level – and represent your country, you’ve done a lot more than most people dream of.

And he, like many others, should get extra credit for hanging in there, and continuing to work hard and chase the dream, even as that dream got further and further away.

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