Canadian tennis player Peter Polansky lost in the final qualifying round of the US Open on Friday, but he doesn’t need your sympathy. Polansky’s failure allowed him to claim one of the most astonishing and unlikely achievements in sports history. Tremble at his feet, world, for Peter Polansky is a loser without equal.
Post-loss, Polansky was randomly selected from a field of 16 players to fill out a vacated US Open spot. In tennis parlance, this makes him the “lucky loser,” a player who fails to qualify but enters the main draw after other participants withdraw due to injury or other reasons. Doing it once is like winning the tennis lottery. Polansky has done it at four Grand Slams in a row, and he embraces the chaos.
The lucky loser is a rather complicated concept, so please allow the National Post to help explain the machinations behind Polansky’s streak of supreme loser-dom:
Lucky loser entries are awarded when high-ranked or wild-card players withdraw from a tournament, allowing players who lose their final qualifying matches to take their spots in the main draw before it starts. The four top-ranked losers from qualifying are put into a random draw to determine who gets in, a process that ensures the highest-ranked qualifier doesn’t blow his final match on purpose.
Polansky had to win exactly two matches at every Grand Slam qualification, and he had to do this four times in a row. He also had to be one of the highest-ranked players to not make the main draw, and he needed a precise number of entrants to drop out beforehand in order to get selected.
To become a lucky loser, you have to thread a needle. Doing it four times in a row is like threading a flea’s belt loops. While tying its teensy bowtie. And putting contact lenses in its little flea eyes.
At Wimbledon this year, Polansky’s entry was lucky, even for him. “Three guys had withdrawn before qualifying, so we knew there were three going in, but I wasn’t originally one of the three that were picked. I didn’t find out until the next day [when Pablo Andujar withdrew],” he told the National Post. “So that was a little bit nerve-racking … I had a good feeling, but it’s a position you don’t really want to be in because you don’t want to rely on luck.” (Fact check: false, if you are Peter Polansky.)
Had Polansky won any Grand Slam matches as a lucky loser this year, his ranking would have shot up and he likely would’ve been ushered straight into the next tournament as a result. He didn’t, and so he had to play the qualification rounds, which opened up the opportunity to fulfill his destiny over and over again and become the ultimate lucky loser.
Prior to his “calendar-year lucky loser Grand Slam,” Polansky was the lucky loser at the 2017 Australian Open. Beyond being the most prolific lucky loser in history, Polanksy received brief notoriety when he lost a set to a guy who served underhand. (Polansky eventually won the match when his opponent withdrew.)
That Polansky is even playing tennis right now is the result of fantastic luck. In 2006, he suffered career(and life)-threatening injuries due to a dream. Polansky was asleep in his Mexico City hotel room when he became haunted by the presence of a knife-wielding man. It was just a nightmare, but, in a panicked sleepwalk, he kicked out his window and jumped. Polansky fell three stories and landed on a bush. He didn’t break any bones, but he suffered severe artery and nerve damage that almost ended his tennis career.
Fortune favors the Polansky, though. He recovered and is now the 120th-ranked tennis player in the world. He faces No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev on Tuesday at the US Open and will be a major underdog. Who knows? Maybe he’ll get lucky.