Almost two years ago, Polish New Yorkers chipped in to buy him tennis shoes at the US Open, where he had finished as junior runner-up in 2007. Four months later, at No. 221 in the Emirates ATP Rankings he still had no sponsor. On occasions, in the past, he had slept in a car on trips at tournaments. His parents, Jerzy Sr. and Anna, both former professional volleyball players, were forced to sell their chain of sports shops. As little as 18 months ago, he could not afford flights to compete in the Australian Open qualifying.
He won his second ATP Challenger Tour title – and a first prize of €4,300 – at Rome in May 2012, as ATP World Tour glitterati descended on the Foro Italico for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. His outlook as a professional tennis player had changed. “Everything changed in Rome,” said Tiilikainen. “He beat three players in the Top 100 and he stuck to his game style throughout the whole tournament. It all clicked in to place. It was like an awakening for him and he gained a lot of confidence.”
When Janowicz qualified for The Championships in 2012, as the World No. 136, he showed flashes of brilliance as a rare talent in reaching the third round. Just as Becker had done on his first visit in 1984. But it was not until he qualified for the BNP Paribas Masters at Paris, in November last year, that the giant firecracker exploded to ensure a dramatic end to a memorable season.
Just as Bjorn Borg observed between 10-20 daily rituals during his run of five straight Wimbledon titles, and Ivanisevic famously adopted three personas – bad, good and emergency Goran – more than 20 years later, Janowicz took some unusual steps in the French capital.
Requesting that his parents stay at home, Janowicz remained in the qualifiers €152-per-night hotel, the Novotel, a short walk from the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, with Tiilikainen. “There, I didn’t feel the pressure,” said Janowicz. “I barely ate or slept – only two to four hours a night, particularly after my wins over Murray and Tipsarevic. I only ate a croissant each morning at breakfast and then went off to train briefly [30 minutes], as usual, ahead of my matches.”
Remaining unshaven and using a “dirty, old bag” throughout the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament, Janowicz carved up Philipp Kohlschreiber, Marin Cilic, Andy Murray, Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon by firing Becker-like serves, powerful forehands and displaying great disguise for drop shot winners on the indoor courts. Tiilikainen recalls, “Mid-afternoon he slept for around 20 minutes, as Jerzy likes to close his eyes for a while the day before a match.”
"When I did television interviews after Paris, it dawned on me what I had achieved"
By mid-week, a Polish rapper had even immortalised Janowicz in a song, "Bajka o Jerzyku czyli Niezwykłe Przygody Jerzego Janowicza w Paryżu" [Fairytale about Jerzyk – Remarakable adventures of Jerzy Janowicz in Paris]. By the time the Lodz native reached the final, “several TV vans were blocking the street next to my family home and Poland’s President [Bronislaw Komorowski] had been in touch.”
Tiilikainen, who is also Finland’s Davis Cup captain, said, “I just told him every day to go out there and enjoy every moment of it. His game was unpredictable, powerful, joyful and confident so there was no sense to take the risk and make him think of the opponents or tactics too much when it was all about him. He just played such a unique and strong game that the other players didn’t know what to do. You could see in many matches how his opponents got frustrated. There was no rhythm. His game was unpredictable and powerful; he was serving great and no one liked it.”
Though he lost to David Ferrer in the title match, Janowicz admits that “during the week, I lived more than all my life. When I did television interviews after Paris, it dawned on me what I had achieved. Until then, I didn’t think I would be that famous after just one week. I could not stop smiling.”
Ah, the smile. It was something that Tiilikainen immediately picked up on when he first met Janowicz. “I was quite amazed by his athleticism and the way he moved on the court. He had smooth strokes and a winning personality. You really didn’t have to be a great coach to realise that he had the potential and talent to do something big in tennis.”
Janowicz insists that this year he “wants to maintain a Top 30 ranking and improve all my strokes.” Tiilikainen agrees. “He doesn’t always look as if he is motivated to improve, if fans watch him in training, but he is and is ready to climb the rankings. The main focus for many years has been to work on the variation of his serve, length of his return, the execution of the short balls, the covering of the court, stepping in to the ball and his reactions.”
This week, Janowicz is guaranteed to leave the All England Club with at least £400,000 ($605,854), more than one half of his entire career prize money to date. He may also soon revise his goals for the year.
Pete Sampras had inspired Janowicz to take up the sport. But the day Sampras, the seven-time former Wimbledon champion, retired, Janowicz also quit. “The day he retired, I asked my Mum, ‘What is the point in playing?’ I stopped for one day … and then returned! At that age you do silly things. Sampras inspired me to work hard to be a really good player, but my parents invested in me and I ensured that I worked hard to do myself and them justice.”
At The Championships this year, he is bidding to follow in the footsteps of his childhood idol. “It is unbelievable what is going on right now,” said 22-year-old Janowicz. Poland will come to a standstill when he plays.