Jerzy Janowicz had a fairytale week at the Paris Masters. He put away five top-20 players in succession, including world No. 3 Andy Murray, earning a place in the final while making his debut appearance in a Masters 1000 event.
The 6’8”, 21-year-old qualifier from Poland began the year outside the top 200 and unable to afford the cost of travel to compete in the Australian Open. He played mostly in the second-tier Challenger Tour, with his parents selling off assets to fund his try for a tennis career. The on-court interviewer after the final with David Ferrer mentioned that Janowicz had sometimes slept in his car while playing in tournaments.
After a magical week in Paris, Janowicz climbs to a world No. 26 ranking, and his €234,865 runners-up check will buy him some long haul plane tickets and hotel rooms in the years to come.
However, the World No. 5, Spaniard Ferrer, brought Janowicz's dream to an end by taking the Paris title in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.
Ferrer had a dream of his own—at age 30 to win his first Master’s 1000 event—after taking home the second-place prize in his three previous appearances. A Masters 1000 trophy was long overdue for a player of his caliber.
In the final, Ferrer was the consummate professional. His rock-solid returning, great shot selection, and consistent serving enabled him to capture the top prize that caps his stellar year. Also taking the winner's trophy in Valencia last week, he now has won seven ATP finals this year, more than any other player, including Roger Federer, who has won six.
Ferrer commented on his win after the match, saying, "I was very nervous because it was my chance to win a first Masters title but somehow I knew it was my turn."
With his customary modestness he went on to praise both his opponent and the four men ranked above him.
Taking nothing away from Ferrer, who earned this win, Janowicz’s level had slipped from what he had come up with for the bulk of his enchanted week. Previous to their meeting he had had won 88 percent of his first serve points and not faced a single break point.
To beat Philipp Kohlschreiber (ranked 19), Marin Cilic (15), Andy Murray (3) and Janko Tipsarevic (9) in succession, after playing two qualifiers was no mean feat.
He did it by way of a deadly first serve, thundering forehand and a devastating drop shot that caught his opponents off-guard and wondering what planet this guy came from. Before this tournament most of his opponents had not heard of him, let alone played against him.
A 6’8” player can be relied on to deliver a powerful serve. But to combine it with great movement and an array of shots where he changes the pace and delivery proved a lethal combination for his first seven victims.
Even Andy Murray, the world No. 3 and a master returner (and with a match point in the second set), was stunned by the Pole’s extraordinary game.
"He is maybe a little bit more unpredictable than a few of them from the back of the court," said Murray. "He tried a lot of drop shots and went for winners maybe when he was out of position that maybe some of the others don't." (reported by Reuters)
What does it mean for the future?
Qualifiers and unknowns have won individual headline matches. But for a qualifier to win five matches in a row with top players is something else.
And the last time a qualifier reached the final on his debut was twelve years ago—which just shows how rare it is.
Will Jerzy Janowicz go on to be a top-ranked player? There is a real possibility.
Does he have the talent? After what he put on display this week, the answer is yes. Does he have the drive? Making it as far as he has already with little support or sponsorship speaks volumes about that.
He also seems a genuinely nice person. He charmed the crowd with his calm confidence and brilliant play and afterwards, in interviews was emotional, humble and transparent.
“I cannot believe this actually. How is this possible?” Janowicz told the press after beating Frenchman Gilles Simon in the Semifinals. “I came here just to play qualifications, and suddenly after a few days I’m in the final."
When asked what he learned this week, as reported by French Federation of Tennis, he replied,"I got a lot of confidence right now, and for sure I learned if you have a big heart and you want to do something amazing and you're going to fight for this, you have a big chance to make it."
Maybe nice guys don’t finish last: Especially if they are 6’8”, carry a big racket, and can move like a roadrunner.
He goes back to Poland now for three weeks of rest and to meet the waiting media. In the coming season Poland's new star will now be seeded in some tournaments, have some first round byes and automatic entry into the major tournaments.
Although he will no longer have to sleep in his car, he will never forget where he came from, nor how, even as runner-up, he was a winner this magical week in Paris.