While the majority of headlines at majors are dominated by superstar storylines and Cinderella runs, each player steps on court with a special narrative to tell. Case in point: Filip Polasek.
For several years, Polasek was a regular fixture in doubles on the ATP tour. Along the way, he picked up 11 titles, reached the Top 20 and was entering his peak years. But at the end of the 2013 season, the Slovakian was forced to stop. A nerve issue in his back, which he described as a squeezing sensation, resulted in discovering loose discs in his spine. Polasek was also unable to put weight on his left knee without feeling pain.
At 28, Polasek traded in his racquet for a coaching hat, eventually earning a role to lead a group of children, ages 8-15 at a club in Piestany. It took two chance encounters to bring Polasek back to the fold as a competitor. Mike Bryan, who happened to be in Slovakia for a wedding in May of 2018, stayed sharp by practicing with Polasek and inquired about his former rival’s health.
“We hit together three or four times and he was making fun that I should come back because I was hitting the ball clean,” Polasek told Baseline. “I was just laughing and didn’t take it too serious. But once I didn’t feel any problems, I started thinking about playing. This was a little bit of a hint to go for it.”
Shortly after his reunion with Bryan, Polasek was asked to play a set of club matches in Germany. He successfully completed seven matches in singles and doubles without pain, and decided to a pursue a comeback. Polasek would be forced to start all over, with no luxury of a protected ranking to test the waters at the top echelon, but as he tells it, the diminished pressure to succeed worked in his favor.
“I was actually happy I didn’t have a protected ranking because I heard a lot of stories how impossible it is to get back to that level. But I love to do impossible things,” Polasek said. “I got there already once and knew what I had to do. I never thought, ‘I have to play Futures or Challengers and I was a Top-20 player before, how sad it is.’ I always told myself I deserve this treatment. I tried to do my best at every practice at every match and it worked out well so far.”
On June 25, 2018, Polasek returned to the ATP doubles rankings at No. 1,192. Incredibly, but perhaps not a complete surprise given his talent and ability, Polasek is in the midst of writing one of the most inspirational, under the radar, tennis stories of the past 12 months. After winning his first doubles title at a $15K Futures event in the Czech Republic on July 8, 2018, Polasek has since contested 11 finals on the ATP Challenger Tour, prevailing in seven of those to return inside the Top 100.
“When I started, I wanted to compete with guys ranked around 100. When I was moving up, I began moving my target,” Polasek said. “I know it’s the process: the results don’t come from nothing. You have to work hard every day, do the right things and make the right decisions on court. As you are improving and rising, the ranking of your opponents is better and better, but I’m ready for that as I’m taking it step by step.”
At around the one-year anniversary of earning the first ranking points of his tennis return, Polasek partnered Ivan Dodig to the Antalya grass-court final, his first ATP-level tournament. Continuing his partnership with Dodig at Wimbledon, the two ousted 10th seeds Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski in five sets to win their opener, then backed it up with a straight-sets victory over Nick Monroe and Mischa Zverev to move into the round of 16.
“The feelings are unbelievable. I was waiting for this opportunity and trying to make best out of it. But at the same time I also felt a lot respect [towards] it,” Polasek said.
On Monday, Polasek achieved his best result at the All England Club. reaching his first major quarterfinal since the 2012 US Open when he and Dodig took out sixth seeds Nikola Mektic and Franko Skugor, 7-6(5), 6-4, 7-6(3). While he is satisfied and grateful to be back on the Grand Slam stage, Polasek isn’t settling either.
“These days I’m hungrier for a big result than any other time," he said. "I want to go further than ever before.”