Sports, just like the entertainment industry, relies heavily on its next generation of stars. And with that in mind, there's a promising one in tennis in Jerzy Janowicz.
Janowicz in certainly one of the tallest players in ATP history, checking in at 6 feet, 8 inches. Currently, only Ivo Karlovic (a tour-record 6-10) and John Isner (6-9) are closer to outer space.
The high-rise of a Pole made a big splash at the Paris Masters in late October and early November when he upset no less than five Top-20 players -- in succession -- including world No. 3 U.S. Open champion and Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray in one of the biggest upsets of the year in the third round, and ninth-ranked Janko Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals. He managed to stun Murray for the biggest win of his career despite being down match point in that round-of-16 battle.
The unlikely run in the "City of Light" landed Janowicz in the final, as he became the first qualifier in five years to reach a Masters championship match (Guillermo Canas, 2007) and the first unseeded player in nine years to appear in the title tilt at the Paris Masters (Andrei Pavel, 2003). He also became the first-ever Polish player to reach an ATP Masters finale.
Unfortunately for JJ, he was unable to beat gutsy world No. 5 Spanish star David Ferrer in the final in Paris. Janowicz did, however, become Poland's No. 1 and cracked the ATP's Top 30 for the first time in his career (No. 26), this after opening 2012 ranked 221st on the planet.
Note: The next highest-ranked Pole is Lukasz Kubot at No. 74.
Janowicz enjoyed a fine junior career that saw him reach a pair of finals at Junior Grand Slam tournaments, the 2007 U.S. Open and 2008 French Open, where he lost to this year's surprise Los Angeles (ATP event) runner-up Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania and Taiwan's Tsung-Hua Yang, respectively.
He now gives the rising tennis nation of Poland a pair of Top-30 ATP/WTA performers, as he joins Agnieszka Radwanska in that exclusive group (or in this case, tandem). Radwanska, of course, reached the women's Wimbledon final this past summer and currently rests at No. 4 overall among the ladies.
Earlier this year, Janowicz actually missed the Australian Open because he didn't have enough money and/or sponsorship to make the trip Down Under. His best showing in the main draw of a major in 2012 wound up being a third-round berth at Wimbledon.
The 22-year-old, who turned pro back in 2008, grew up in an athletic family in Lodz, Poland, as his father, Jerzy, and mother, Anna Szalbot, were both professional volleyball players.
The younger Jerzy's bread and butter out on the tennis court are a massive serve and menacing forehand, but he also displays a variety of drop shots and lobs, as well as a great deal of mental toughness.
Recently asked how he acquired said mental toughness, Janowicz divulged, "I was a bad boy at primary school. In high school, I was fighting with everyone, with the teachers. I was a really bad guy. Somehow it's really not easy for me to explain why I'm that kind of guy."
Janowicz is coached by 37-year-old former Finnish player Kim Tiilikainen, who also currently serves as captain of Finland's Davis Cup team.
And on a side note, Janowicz recently graduated from "ATP University" in London. What is ATP University, you ask? It's a program that has seen more than 800 students graduate since its launch in 1990. It aims to provide players with a thorough knowledge of ATP operations and the skills necessary for a productive and lasting career. Among the topics covered are rules and officiating, giving back, one-on-one media training, marketing the tour, nutrition and personal finances. Janowicz was one of the 12 "graduates" last month, which also included his aforementioned junior nemesis Yang.
Tennis fans want to know if Janowicz' run in Paris was the result of a fluke or if he is a legitimate contender to the game's elite. He is after all 5-2 against Top-20 competition.
I don't necessarily see JJ challenging the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray or Rafael Nadal in the upcoming 2013 season, but he does appear to have bright future and definitely has a big enough game to reach the Top 10.
Na zdrowie! (the Polish toast)