Le Rêve Polonais

To say it has been a week of unexpected drama at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris would be an understatement. The event got off to a wobbly start after Roger Federer decided to bypass defending his title from last year in order to rest for next week’s ATP World Tour Finals. With Rafael Nadal already gone due to his knee injury, the hope, at least for tournament director Guy Forget, would be that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray would provide enough excitement to satisfy the always fickle Parisian crowds.

But when Djokovic bowed out in his opening match to Sam Querrey, suddenly it was up to Murray to “save” the event, as he faced an unknown qualifier in Poland’s Jerzy Jankowicz who had come through qualifying to beat Philipp Kohlschreiber and Marin Cilic in the main draw before facing the U.S. Open champion in the third round. After claiming the first set, Murray held a match point on his serve in the second set and seemed poised to notch a tough, yet routine straight sets win.

But Murray failed to close the deal and soon found himself first on the losing end of a tiebreak in the second set and then out of the tournament as Janowicz pulled off the improbable upset. While it marks the third time in as many weeks that Murray has failed to win a match from a winning position, the spotlight turned to the Lodz native who, though a promising junior having reached the boys finals at both the U.S. Open and Roland Garros a few years ago, has spent most of his time on the challenger circuit.

What fascinates most tennis watchers about the 6’8″ Janowicz’s game is not just that he can bomb down huge first serves, almost a necessity in this age of power tennis, but the fact that he possesses deft touch from all parts of the court and excellent movement for a man his size. When asked to describe himself as a shot, Janowicz immediately will say “forehand” and it is no wonder considering he can crack a winner with his own forehand from seemingly anywhere.

After beating Murray, Janowicz overcame a nervy start in the quarters against Janko Tipsarevic before dialing into his game that saw him rip winners from everywhere. The performance was so dominant, many are saying that Tipsarevic’s retirement late in the third set due to, as Tipasrevic officially described it, “sudden fatigue”, was more due to the Serb getting tired of watching the Pole’s shots whiz by him than any real physical malady suffered during the match.

Janowicz notched another impressive win over France’s Gilles Simon in the semis that saw the Pole hit 39 winners in a match where most of the partisan crowd was rooting for their countryman. After he lost 6-4, 7-5 Simon, in his press conference quipped, “I want to see him out in the wind, hitting 160 KM per hour on the line.” And Simon’s got a point. Even Janowicz is at a loss to explain why he is suddenly producing such sublime tennis. Is it because the event is indoors on a medium to slow court? Is it because the rest of the field is somewhat tired after a long season? One could come up with a number of caveats but Janowicz so far has provided enough answers that make his run from qualies to the finals in some ways a perfect end to a season that has seen the “big four” dominate the ATP tour once again.

Standing in Janowicz’s way of winning the biggest title of his career is David Ferrer who himself is seeking his first ever ATP Masters 1000 title. Many social media timelines have been flooded with the notion that the veteran Spaniard “deserves” his first Masters title simply because of his veteran status. But titles in tennis are not up to popular vote and instead must be earned on the court. And though Ferrer, who will compete next week in the ATP finals in London, will be a favorite against Janowicz, it should be noted that the number of wishful posts on social media that the Pole should be allowed to play in London next week shows how much many tennis fans have been waiting for a new face to challenge the elite of the game.

Whether Janowicz wins or lose tomorrow’s final, he will certainly be viewed as a potential top ten player for next season. For a man who couldn’t afford the airfare to Melbourne this year but who now will likely be seeded for the first Grand Slam of 2013, his dream run in Paris may not only end up being the most welcome story at the end of the regular season for 2012 but in some ways, as many hope, the first chapter of an exciting career as the sport’s next superstar.

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