THE message from Jerzy Janowicz’s corner could not have been clearer. The Pole is 22-years-old and fearless. He possesses a serve that would floor a rhino and a momentum that will take some stopping.
Janowicz might be in the first grand slam semi-final of his young career, but his team are talking big, their ambitions as lofty as Janowicz is tall, a 6ft 8in specimen and one of the coming men of the world game.
“I would say it is confidence, not arrogance,” says his Finnish coach, Kim Tiilikainen. “With the way he walks it might look like (arrogance), but I would say it is just confidence. He truly believes he can beat anyone, and that he can win the tournament.
“He believes he can beat Andy, but, of course, he has to play well. If Andy handles the pressure he is still the favourite to win, but Jerzy won’t make it easy for anybody. He’s an emotional person and it’s very nice to see someone like this, someone who is not trying to pretend he is anything else than what he really is. Tennis needs people like this. Will he feel the pressure as a young guy on centre court? He will love it. He will bring his best. He is born to be a star.”
There was no clock to measure the speed of Janowicz’s serves in practice yesterday, but then there didn’t need to be. The weakest would have been around the 104mph mark, the strongest knocking on for 140mph. He is a one-man blast-a-thon, a cannonball in shorts. After winning his quarter-final, he was asked about the challenges of facing Murray on Centre Court, seemingly believing that he was playing an Englishman and not a Scot today. Poor on geography, but big on power. Bigger than most.
Janowicz is human dynamite; 94 aces already in this championship – more than 30 clear of everybody else. Tim Henman has described what it is like to face an opponent with such serving power. “It’s a little bit like the goalkeeper in a penalty shoot-out,” said Henman. “Andy is trying to pop the ball back and get himself into those rallies and that’s where Janowicz has had a lot of success, but one of the reasons I think Andy will win is that he will return serve better than others and get into baseline rallies and that’s where he will begin to turn the tables.
“Facing a serve like Janowicz’s is a bit of a guessing game, but it’s very much an educated guess. You do get to feel the guy’s patterns and where he likes to serve on the big points. But when the guy is 6ft 8in and serving 140mph, it doesn’t give you long.”
Janowicz is given to extremes of emotions. When he wants to be, he can be effusive; crying and then speaking from the heart as he did when beating his countryman Lukasz Kubot in the quarter-final on Wednesday. He has faced Murray twice, once in Davis Cup (he lost) and again at the Paris Masters last year, a tournament that saw him survive match point and then go all the way to the final.
The emotion tumbled out of him that week, particularly when beating Murray. “It’s not easy for me to talk about this week because I had really tough moments in my life and this is really like a movie for me,” he said. “I beat the Olympic champion, the US Open champion. Still, I have a feeling in a few minutes I’m going to wake up and everything’s gonna be gone.” Paris marked the end of his struggles on the Challenger circuit and his ascent to the main tour. Until Janowicz arrived, no Pole had been ranked in the world’s top-30 since Wojciech Fibak, who reached No 29 in 1984. No Pole had ever reached the semi-final of a grand slam until he beat his compatriot, Kubot.
To give an indication of how far he has come, and how quickly, at the beginning of 2012 he was ranked 221 and was so strapped for cash that he couldn’t afford the flight to play in the qualifiers for the Australian Open. There is talk of a man in the Polish community in New York helping him to buy tennis shoes. More talk of his parents selling their sports shop and apartment so that he could have this life.
He is the son of two former professional volleyball players and is a character. He has attitude, no question. He had a meltdown at this year’s Australian Open which reflected badly on him, a brattish explosion at the umpire that saw not him just shouting at the official but whacking his chair with his racket and flinging a water bottle across court.
During another of his matches in Australia some of his followers were evicted from court for refusing to hush their noise. At the Rome Masters, Janowicz again signalled his class by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and once more indicated his controversial side by ripping off his shirt in front of the cameras, a la Novak Djokovic. Whatever he may become, Janowicz is no Djokovic right now. But he is danger, a big-hitting, super-confident kid with nothing to lose.