Andy Murray came to the Liverpool Echo Arena, saw his opponents, and conquered them. Sadly for the Great Britain team, that was not enough.
And the headline news now—certainly in the British press—is whether Murray should turn his back on the G.B. team until an over-indulgent system shows any sign that it can produce a world-class player to support the cause.
There was no doubting Murray’s commitment to his matches in the home team’s Davis Cup play-off, despite a sore wrist and a sore swipe at the media.
Having won his first rubber in straight sets, he was even more fired-up for his second match against the Polish No. 1. It was, and should have been, an easy match. Murray was, after all, playing the world No. 261. He duly won in straight sets.
But what the Liverpool crowd had the pleasure of seeing was a spirited and exciting new talent able to draw out the very best of Murray’s game. As a result, the teenager from Poland, Jerzy Janowicz, threw into even sharper relief just what G.B. tennis is lacking.
Janowicz, at just 18 years of age, was certainly not overawed by playing the world No. 3 on his home ground. What’s more, he had already taken a straight sets victory in his first rubber with an impressive power game that contained hints at all sorts of talent.
It was his physical presence that impressed first. Janowicz was variously described in the U.K. press as somewhere between 6'6" and 6'8". He is, in truth, mid-way between the two, making him a fraction taller than the latest star in the tennis firmament, Juan Martin Del Potro.
Yet while he is still two years junior to the Argentine, Janowicz’ physique already looks more evenly proportioned. He certainly had his deceptively large frame under impressive control around the court, and showed a willingness to power from behind the baseline and to advance to the net position.
He made a lot of volley errors against Murray with this tactic, but that seemed due more to over-enthusiasm than to poor movement. What he lacked in consistency he made up for in aggression and ambition.
In fact, rather than Del Potro, the player who first came to mind, while watching this tall young man around the court, was Marat Safin.
Facially, he has the same eastern European bone structure and gloom-laden expression. That, of course, is a comparison that might damn with feint praise. Where Safin allowed his temperament to dominate his talent, the Pole will need to channel his attributes more positively.
Back, then, to the Del Potro comparison. Janowicz’s style of play recalls much of the world No. 5’s powerful driving through the ball to generate huge pace and penetration. Unsurprisingly, he has a big serve too. Where he scores over Del Potro at the same age—two years ago—is in his mobility and forward speed.
So to another—and extremely flattering—comparison. Janowicz has an easy fluidity, including his service action, not entirely dissimilar to Roger Federer’s. This view comes not from the author of this piece but from a fellow observer, yet is not entirely fanciful.
A better comparison, however, might be with Novak Djokovic, though that too is a huge compliment to a player of such tender years and experience.
So enough of fanciful comparisons: what about some facts and figures? Well there’s precious little information to go on.
In the last Davis Cup round in March, Janowicz beat Belgium’s Kristof Vliegen (world No. 80), and he gave Andreas Seppi a run for his money in Marseille in February, losing 6-7, 6-3, 6-7.
He has a number of other top 100 to 150 players under his belt, including two in the qualifying rounds at the U.S. Open. Although he didn’t make the main draw there, he is heading in the right direction: just a year ago, he was ranked 600 in world.
Certainly a number of the current top players—Rafael Nadal and Del Potro spring to mind—broke into the top 20 by the time they were barely 20. But a quick look at some of the players with whom Janowicz arguably has more in common—Federer, Djokovic and even Murray—shows that, at Janowicz’s age, they too were hovering in the ranking hundreds.
These are still early days for this young talent, though Janowicz is already carrying the hopes of Poland on his young shoulders as they embark on their fight to keep their spot in Europe/Africa Group One.
Based in Poland, he must cast envious eyes at the kind of financial and developmental support that his British equivalents enjoy.
It’s probably fair to say that the British public, along with Murray, casts envious eyes towards the vast pool of talent in Europe.
Yet there must be any number of Janowicz’s in a population the size of the U.K’s. We need to learn from our neighbours how to find them, and then how to make them winners.