By Giri Nathan
The banana will always maintain pride of place. But there are also dates. And butters (peanut, almond). Salted pretzels. Date-and-coconut gels. Ambiguous gels. Ambiguous bottles of liquids, a kaleidoscope of electrolytes, flavorings, colorings. A pair of bottles arranged ritually at a 45-degree angle to the nearest baseline, if you’re Rafael Nadal. Custom-brewed “Gil Water,” if you’re Andre Agassi. Coffee in a to-go cup delivered by a ball person, if you’re Venus Williams—make it an espresso if you’re Serena. A Snickers washed down with RC Cola, if you’re Marcus Willis. A single carrot, if you’re Jannik Sinner. A salt shaker straight to the mouth, if you’re Daniil Medvedev. Everyone operates with some blend of superstition and sports science, if those are different things.
In the past week, Vasek Pospisil has made a powerfully Canadian contribution to the snack canon. After back surgery at the start of the 2019 season, Pospisil is slowly rounding back into form. He has played his way back into the 100 and notched confidence-building wins over Denis Shapovalov and David Goffin in Montpellier last week. But set aside the results for a moment and consider the tree sap. Playing in his first final in six years, facing home favorite Gael Monfils, the resurgent Pospisil, true to his heritage, casually pulled from a bottle of maple syrup—the real stuff, not the gunky high-fructose kind. Pospisil lost the match, but he won a war none of us knew we were fighting. Maple syrup, the stuff of endurance athletes and waffle enjoyers, has now been validated as a performance-enhancing tennis food, and the changeover may never be the same. Pospisil later tweeted in tribute: “Best Sports performance drink. Anti-cancerous properties. Rich in nutrients & minerals. Fights against terrorists. Shockingly good in coffee. A great friend.”
It made its second appearance during his 67-minute, 6–4, 6–3 rout of Medvedev in Rotterdam on Wednesday. (Perhaps Daniil was missing his salt.) Pospisil, a physical beast with a polished net game, won big and fast. He struck 21 winners to just 13 unforced errors, took 20 of 24 points at the net, and never gave Medvedev the chance to entangle him in his web of long, woozy rallies. That marked just the third win of the Canadian’s career against a top-five player. “I’m moving better than I have in the last five years,” he said after the match. “I thought I lost my movement, thought I was never gonna get it back, thought I was getting old and that was it.” But it seems to be back, thanks to a restored back. The syrup reemerged too, late in the first set. At 4–4, sitting in a 0–40 hole, Pospisil found three straight aces. Having survived that game, he sat in his chair and took a generous swig of the sweet stuff between heavy breaths. He then broke serve immediately to claim the set, which is roughly when I started filling the tub with high-performance bath syrup to gear up for a deeply mediocre practice set. In his post-match interview Pospisil offered the origin story of his new caloric fix, and mercifully Big Syrup does not seem to be involved in the scheme (yet):
“It just came completely unexpectedly. I’m a huge maple syrup guy. I travel with maple syrup, I use it religiously in the mornings, and then I was low on energy gels. And my physio was like, ‘You know, marathon runners use it.’ And I said, ‘I’ll use it for the match.’ And I love the taste, and it gave me good energy, and I’m Canadian, so I should be using it.”
Will maple syrup and renewed movement take the talented Canadian back up to the top-30 air he last tasted in 2014? I hope so, and more to the point, I know which of the two I will credit.
Issues 11-12 Bundled in a New Low Price
What happens when a tennis bubble bursts? In this special limited-time package, we present Ben Rothenberg’s two-part story on Monique Viele, deemed “the next Anna Kournikova.” Monique’s journey illustrates the dangers of letting men of a certain age plot the career of a teenage girl – especially when one of those men is Donald Trump.