London: Jerzy Janowicz was once so poor that New Yorkers pooled money to buy him tennis shoes at the US Open before his parents sold their sports shop to keep their son on the road.
Two years ago, when he was ranked at a lowly 221 in the world, the giant Pole didn’t have the cash to buy an air ticket to the Australian Open and, in his junior days, he was even offered fantastic riches to dump Poland and play for Qatar.
No wonder the 22-year-old native of Lodz collapsed in tears after beating compatriot Lukasz Kubot to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon on Wednesday.
The victory made him the first Polish man to reach the last-four of a major, while it also banished his financial worries. As a semi-finalist, he collects at least $610,000 (Dh2.23 million).
“I was practicing really tough my whole life. I had some troubles also during my career. You are practicing and working for that kind of moment. It wasn’t easy to control these emotions,” he said.
Last year, Janowicz, who stands 2.03m tall, arrived at Wimbledon ranked 136 and had to qualify. He made the third round and at the end of the year he had proved that performance was no fluke when he made the Paris Masters final, again having to come through the qualifiers.
He defeated Andy Murray, his opponent in Friday’s semi-finals, on the way and finished 2012 at 26 in the world.
Suddenly those penniless days travelling and sleeping in his car to save money were over.
His volatile character, which saw him throw a spectacular tantrum at the Australian Open while telling a line judge, “you only have one line to watch, it’s not that complicated”, has made him a huge star in Poland.
His run to the Paris Masters final even inspired a Polish rap song, Bajka o Jerzyku czyli Niezwykle Przygody Jerzego Janowicza w Paryzu (Fairytale adventures of Jerzy Janowicz in Paris).
But sudden fame and fortune have not changed Janowicz, according to Davis Cup teammate Mariusz Fyrstenberg.
“He’s a very funny guy,” Fyrstenberg told www.atptour.com of his patriotic countryman, who has not missed a Davis Cup tie since 2008.
“In Indian Wells this year, we went to play golf. This was his first time on the course, so I tried to teach him all the basics about golf etiquette. But I forgot to tell him that he cannot drive his golf cart on to the green.
“So, I see from 200 yards, that he had parked just one metre away from the hole and is relaxing there. I then saw this woman come up and give him some advice. So when I got to the green, I asked ‘What did she tell you?’ He said, ‘Can you believe that the woman was teaching me how to drive?’.”