Adil Shamasdin, currently the #2 doubles player in Canada and a member of the Davis Cup team, enjoyed a good 2016 on the ATP Tour. Quarterfinals at Wimbledon (with Jonathan “Jonny” Marray), second round at the Rogers Cup in Toronto (with Philip Bester) after beating Novak Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic, return to the Top 100 of the rankings, and another Davis Cup appearance.
We caught up with Adil in April during his short visit to Toronto before departing for Texas to play an ATP 250 event and were able to ask him about his past year. Since this conversation, Adil has won an ATP title in Lyon, won a challenger event in Ilkley (with Paes), reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros and elevated his ATP doubles ranking to #41.
Q.What was the most important result for you in 2016?
A.Definitely the Wimbledon run with Jonathan. I didn’t have a great year until then. Lots of losses, not that many wins, going from partner to partner, not confident with my game, and not confident with the game of whoever I was playing with. Then Jonny and I unexpectedly connected at one of the tournaments and decided to play together for a bit longer than one or two weeks and start working on a system. That was probably the turning point. Jonny’s brother Dave helped us quite a bit, and another coach who we were working with was Jimmy Davidson. We also were helped by Louis Cayer who is now working for the LTA (Jonny being British had access to him). At that time my ranking was like 110 or 120 so we could not get into the main draw by ourselves. But Jonny, being a past Wimbledon Champion, got a wild card and the LTA trusted his judgement and that’s how we got to play Wimbledon.
Q.Can you describe a little more your experience of playing Wimbledon?
A.It was just great. We had a difficult draw playing 2015 Champions Jean-Julien Roger and Horia Tecau in the first round. It was overwhelming, but I trusted the system, and what we were working on, and it clicked. It was like WOW! All that hard work is paying off and it’s happening at Wimbledon.
Q.You’ve said a couple of times that you didn’t know how to win, and also that you were trying the system, and working on one... can you explain this a little bit more?
A.I think it is normal to always have a little bit of a doubt. Particularly when you are losing two, three weeks in a row, you start hearing that inner voice: “how come I cannot win? It’s been three matches in a row”, then you get to the point at deuce (and in doubles that’s a deciding point now – PF) or 8-all in a super-breaker, and you have doubts. So, by the system I mean you have to decide what is going to work for you the best. I went back to my strengths and that is my footwork, my speed, and volleys. I just said to myself “let’s sharpen those things again.” Strengthening the strengths, and making them they way they were supposed to be, made me believe that it would help me to win matches. With Jonny being such a successful doubles player (Marray won Wimbledon in 2012 – PF) we focused on positioning at the net. He and I like to serve and volley so we worked on that and how to help your partner. At the end it all comes down to self belief. Tennis is a game of inches, so you have to believe in yourself so you can actually give yourself a chance to win.
Q.And after that spectacular effort at Wimbledon you beat Djokovic and Zimonjic in Toronto...
A.At that point in my career I felt much more confident playing in front of a home crowd, and playing with Bester was good. We both understood each other’s game so the system was good. I also thought that whatever my partner is going to do I have to focus on my game, and it does not matter what he does or does not do, I cannot overcompensate for that. When we drew Djokovic and Zimonjic it was a pretty cool feeling. I don’t play singles, so to play someone like Djokovic and to have an opportunity to do it at home was special. In the beginning everyone was excited to see Djokovic. To be honest, so was I (laughing). You know he is such an established player, and a legend on his own. I was a bit nervous in the beginning, but I’ve played Zimonjic before so I had a bit of a game plan. I said to Phil, “Let’s play within ourselves and we will have our chances, let’s just stay with our plan.”
Q.And it worked! You had a bit of a conversation with Djokovic at the net after the match. What did he tell you?
A.Well, he basically congratulated me. When you play wild cards you expect to win, and I think that they might have assumed that this would be a good warm up for Djokovic to play singles, and didn’t expect it to be a tough match. It was a great feeling to have such a win especially in Canada, because I think that there are still some tennis fans in Canada who don’t really know who I am. Maybe that win opened their eyes?
Q.Later on there was a Davis Cup tie against Chile, and another appearance as a full time team member...
A.That was huge. Anytime playing for your country is important. I was coming to that tie playing well, and Tennis Canada trusted in my ability to play. Since Dan and Milos were not available, it was Vasek and myself representing Canada in doubles. Vasek and I had played before, and we had a good energy going into that match...and again, the home crowd...that was very special for me. I was nervous in the beginning, but Vasek helped me out and we won.
Q.How different was that experience for you from playing against Belgium?
A.Big, big difference. Belgium was my first time playing for Canada. The court surface wasn’t all that comfortable for me. Super slow clay, rainy conditions, windy. On paper I thought that Daniel and I were a better team, but when we started the match, it was us who were the weaker team. It was a very tough loss for me to swallow, and I wasn’t sure whether I would have another chance to play Davis Cup. And I didn’t play against France in Guadeloupe, so I thought that this tie against Belgium was my only chance and I blew it. So, playing against Chile I came to the tie with my own core values knowing exactly what I wanted out of practice sessions and how I wanted to play. Before that, in previous ties, I was just “getting orders” and that was probably because for the longest time I was a hitting partner, so I had to cater to others. I decided that playing against Chile would be different. I was going to play my game, and I believed it was my time to do so. So even if I was going to lose, I would lose on my own terms. I’ve made that decision within myself because that feeling that I got after playing Belgium wasn’t good at all! It wasn’t because we lost it, but how we lost it. So against Chile I wanted to come out and play a different game. My own game. I felt more confident, and I told the coaching team ahead of time how I wanted to set up practices and what I wanted from that tie. They sensed my confidence and everything worked well...
Q.Then again it was a bit of a rough patch for you, some losses, and all of a sudden you won four tournaments in five weeks, and you’ve done all that playing with four different partners. What’s your secret to turning things around in such a dramatic fashion?
A.I wish I knew the secret (laughing). The beginning of the year was rough, but the preparation for the season was good, I went to Florida with Jonny and his coach (brother Dave). We also took Tennis Canada fitness coach Dave Lindsay with us. We were working hard for a couple of weeks, then came out to play tournaments and started losing again. It was really tough for both of us, but we we’ve also had that feeling that we were doing the right thing and that we were losing on our terms. So we kept going, but unfortunately Jonny got injured again....so once again I had to look for around for a partner. It was discouraging.
Doubles Champions: Leander Paes and Adil Shamasdin
Q.One of the partners this spring was the legendary Leander Paes, one of the best doubles players ever. How did that happen?
A.First of all it was a great experience because I wasn’t even planning on playing that week, but if a guy like Paes is asking you to play with him, you just can’t say no. I treated that week as a learning experience, because playing with a legend like that is always very special. I’ve played in the past with Nestor, and now it was Paes. I believe I was his 110th doubles partner, not sure if that was a good or bad thing (laughing) but we made the most out of it and won the tournament. Paes and I spoke after the tournament, and he liked the way I was playing, and told me he would be interested in playing again, so perhaps it will happen sometime this year. You know he might have lost a step or two but he still is a great player. Someone I can learn from. We mixed quite well as a team.
Q.So how do you go about winning four tournaments in five weeks, each time playing with different partner?
A.Well, it definitely feels like it is something special, but to be fair there is also a lot of luck involved. But you can create your own luck, those breaks can happen at any time. You simply have to stay with the process and the breaks will come. Winning is also a habit. When you start winning you expect to win, and have that feeling that you can do it. Even playing with different partners, I’ve had a lot of positive energy that I was trying to pass on to my partners. You just have to believe in yourself, your partner and the process. The guy I was playing with in Wroclaw (Poland) found me on Facebook. I’d never met him, and didn’t even know who he was. We actually met for the first time on the elevator at the tournament site. Because he was playing singles, we only had a chance to practice for about 30 minutes before our first round. As strange as this sounds, that actually might have helped us because there were no expectations at all. Doubles is good that way because you cannot control what your partner is going to do, nor what your opponents are going to do. Focus on your game.
Q.In Wroclaw there was a moment when you were playing Julian Knowles from Austria with whom you won a tournament just a week before (Bergamo – Italy). Was that difficult for you?
A.Yes, it was tough. He was playing well, and we respect each other. I like playing with him, and actually was hoping to play with him in Wroclaw, but he had previous commitments, so we ended up on opposite sides of the net.
Q.What are you enjoying most right now, what are the challenges, and finally your goals for the remainder of the year?
A.I am enjoying the wins when they are happening, no matter at what level of professional tennis. They also make me hungrier to win more, to do better, to be a better player. Even after so many years on the tour I am still learning. And I still have the goal in mind to be a Top 50 player. I’m still chasing it. But I am not obsessed with rankings. If I play well, the results will come. The process will get me there.