Monday, 5 November 2012

Ah, sweet! 21-year old giant Jerzy Janowicz is overwhelmed to reach the Paris Masters tennis final

Mind you, no wonder he was tired and emotional, given the roar he'd produced just a few minutes earlier after beating Gilles Simon in the semi-finals:

Okay, Jerzy eventually lost to David Ferrer, but the Spaniard is number five in the world and Jerzy is 69th. Getting to the final of a Masters 1000 is an extraordinary feat for a kid almost nobody had heard of before he beat five Top twenty players on successive days last week, including Andy Murray (having beaten five other players in the four days before that to qualify). Earlier this year, the guy lost to a British player who wasn’t Andy Murray (boy, is that ever embarrassing), and ten months ago, he couldn’t even afford to compete in the Australian Open. Now he’s shot into the Top 30 and tournament directors will be gagging to sign him up.

A star is born.

Jerzy is just one of a new breed of tennis giants, but, at 6’8”, he isn’t even the tallest competitor on the main tour. Sure, he’s eleven inches taller than his eventual conqueror in Paris, David Ferrer, who, in tennis terms is practically a dwarf – but the Croat Ivo Karlovic is 6’ 10”, and the American John Isner is 6 9” (he had to choose between tennis and basketball as a teenager). Fellow-American Sam Querrey is 6’ 6”, as is the Croat, Marin Cilic. The tallest player ever to win a slam title is Juan Martin del Porto, also 6' 6". The 21-year old Canadian, Milos Raonic, stands 6’ 5”, as does the Czech, Tomas Berdych. Oddly, the French player, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who looks enormous, turns out to be relatively short-arsed, at 6’ 2”, an inch shorter than Andy Murray.

The best height for a male tennis player seems to be between 6’ 1” and 6’ 2” – Federer, Sampras, Djokovic, Nadal, Borg, Becker, Lendl and Edberg all fit the bill. That narrow height range seems to allow players to combine power, speed, agility and athleticism.

The days when Rod Laver (5’ 8”), Ken Rosewall (5’ 7”) or sub-six footers like McEnroe and Connors could regularly win slams seem to have passed. (For instance, Ferrer hasn’t, and won’t.)

But, when it comes to height, despite the fact that the world is generally getting taller, tennis seems to have reached stasis during the past two decades.

2012 Top Ten 
1 Djokovic, Novak ) 6 ft 2 in
2 Nadal, Rafael         6 ft  1in
3 Federer, Roger 6 ft 1 in
4 Murray, Andy         6 ft 3 in
5 Ferrer, David         5 ft 9 in
6 Tsonga, Jo-Wilfried 6 ft 2 in
7 Berdych, Tomas 6 ft 5 in
8 Fish, Mardy         6 ft 2 in
9 Tipsarevic, Janko 5 ft 11 in
10 Del Potro, Juan Martin  6 ft 6 in.

1990 Top Ten
1 Edberg, Stefan        6 ft 2 in.
2 Becker, Boris          6 ft 2 in.
3 Lendl, Ivan             6 ft 2 in.
4 Agassi, Andre          5 ft 11 in.
5 Sampras, Pete        6 ft 1 in.
6 Gomez, Andres       6 ft 4 in
7 Muster, Thomas      5 ft 11 in
8 Sanchez, Emilio     5 ft 11 in
9 Ivanisevic, Goran    6 ft 5 in
10 Gilbert, Brad        6 ft 1 in.

(source: )

Despite the presence of some genuine freaks in the Top 20, the Top 10 looks the same as it did 22 years ago. The reason for this is simple. New racket technology allows the likes of a Karlovic or Isner to bullet down virtually unreturnable serves from a ridiculous height and bash the ball away with  monster forehands in the unlikely event that their opponent manages to get the ball back. But once the ball is in play, that same racket technology allows their smaller opponents to place the ball with far greater accuracy than in the past, so they can leave lumbering Man Mountains heading like super-tankers in the wrong direction as the ball whizzes past them, or stranded behind the baseline as the ball drops delicately over the net. Not only that, but the super-fast courts that allowed bish-bash-bosh big-serving thugs to prosper on a regular basis have all been slowed down, giving smaller, more agile, more skillful players a chance to reach the ball.

Good players over 6’ 4” rarely develop silky skills – Isner, Karlovic, Querrey and Raonic tend to be bottom of the league for the number of return service games won. Their game relies on holding their own serve and getting through to a tie-break. Because they’re big, their side-to-side movement tends to be awkward, and they’re not exactly greased lightning running for drop-shots: they lumber.

But Jerzy Janowicz may just be a mould-breaker. If you didn’t know he was 6’ 8”, you’d never guess it (until he goes to the net at the end of a match and looms over his opponent). For a start, he moves at a normal pace between points – del Porto and Isner always move as if they’re on the verge of collapsing. He’s also well-proportioned – Isner and del Potro look like they’ve been badly assembled in a lab out of mis-matched body parts. And he moves like an athlete – side-to-side and back-to-front.

He also has flair. Lots of it. He drop-shotted Andy Murray, Gilles Simon and Janko Tipsarevic to death – and they’re some of the best movers in the game. Apart from a ridiculous serve and a huge forehand, the kid, as they say in tennis, has “hands”. That’s why I’m tipping this young Polish giant to be the first genuine giant (over 6’ 6” in my view) to win a grand slam tournament, probably sometime in 2015. His opponent might just be Milos Raonic (once he’s learned that standing 12 feet behind the baseline to return serve isn’t a great idea), given that the Canadian has a brain and a serve so monstrous it should probably be outlawed.

Just as Sam Phillips obsessed about finding a white boy with a black voice, and happened upon Elvis Presley, at some stage tennis has to produce a giant with the skills and speed of normal-sized player. Jerzy Janowicz could just be that giant.

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