It’s only a game, but it’s in New York. Next time maybe Jerzy Janowicz will appreciate that.
In a hard-fought match on Court 10, one of the outside courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the legendary U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, Polish star Jerzy Janowicz blew his cool several times in the direction of the chair ump, a prim and schoolmarm type who refused to be ruffled and told the young man, all six and a half feet of him, to stop second-guessing the line judges and get on with the match. That seems to have made the young Jerzy — he is 22 but his place of birth was lost in translation when I spoke to him, for reasons that will become apparent — even more angry and he slammed his way through the end of the second set and took his fury into the third. It appeared his opponent, 19-year old Dennis Novikov, was going to crumble, intimidated by the Polish charge.
Instead he dug in after nearly blowing the second set tiebreak after taking a 6-1 lead, and falling apart completely in the third set. He took a deep breadth (literally), shook his head a few times, smiled inwardly (it showed outwardly), and put his serve back to work. Dennis Novikov, who is nearly as tall as Janowicz but bigger, more muscular, has a very, very big serve.
The teenager finally pulled it out, keeping, it must be said, a more level tennis head than the young man, who repeatedly misjudged Novikov’s speed and agility on the court and thus gave him opportunities to put away formidable forehand winners when he thought he was tripping him up with short lobs and slices. However, I was struck by the quality of both men’s games. They are big, but they move as well as basketball players and eschew the old counter-punch, trying instead always to gain the initiative.
They have time to grow into great champions. The Floridian already seems well on the way to getting a firm mental control of his own game; that is to say, he sees the opportunity, refuses to be frazzled by the circumstances. If his serve is not working or, as in the third set, the forehand is unreliable, he’ll figure it out and fix it; who else can?
And that is a very American attitude. Seize your chance; create your chances, what you make of them depends on you. This is one of the main reasons people came, and continue to come, to America. This is why people came and continue to come to New York, the promised city.
Jerzy Janowicz, after the match, was dejected, surly. He did not want to talk to anyone. Maybe his reputation had preceded him, but I found myself alone in an interview cubicle with him; usually I just listen to the questions of the other, more experienced and profound sports reporters, who come up with gems I never could have thought up, such as (of a winner), “Do you feel good about the way you played today, Joe?” or (of a loser), “Were you feeling pressure today, John?”
I came up with what I thought would be a good ice breaker, which given his demeanor I thought might be the thing to do. “So, shall we speak English or what?” What came back was incomprehensible, so I said, “You like New York?” He shrugged, but I could not tell if it meant indifference to New York or to telling me about it. It seemed to me he had been expressing himself in English when arguing with the ump.
“Well so,” I continued, “where you from? City boy or country?”
At this point a Polish reporter stepped in and took over, so I excused myself.
Although I was sorry to have failed to get any insights into the development of tennis players in post-communist Poland — Jerzy belongs to a generation that has no experience of stalino-totalitarianism — I was very happy to have chosen to watch the action at Court 10. Sitting next to me was a group of boys and girls only a little younger than Jerzy Janowicz, and they were all rooting for him, though in a fairly demure and quiet way. A few rows away was a group of two or three men who were yelling encouragement to him at the top of their lungs, using the rhythmic chant heard in Yankee Stadium (Let’s-go-Jer-zy!)
“You from Poland?” I hazarded, always the impertinent reporter. One of the girls, a really pretty one with a lean and slender look, smiled like the sunshine that was pouring down on that part of Queens (we were perspiring) and said, “Yes! How did you know!”
“I’m a trained reporter,” I said. “Are you visiting America?” — “My first time!” she gushed. “It is wonderful! We go,” she pointed to the others, “to everywhere, tomorrow to the Statue of Liberty!”
“No!” I said, though in fact I happen to know there is always an enormous crowd at the Statue — it is very popular. “You are all from the same family?”
“Yes, but they are my American cousins.” It turned out the family had a branch that had come here and a branch that had stayed in Poland.
“And you support Jerzy?”
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