Janowicz beats fifth top-20 player

The best rags-to-riches story in tennis this year has come at the end. The millionaires may be gathering in London next week for the eight-man ATP World Finals, but here at the BNP Paribas Masters, a 21-year-old qualifier will be receiving a check Sunday for more money than he has ever seen in his life.

The fairy tale continued for Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz in the semifinal, where he beat a top-20 player for the fifth consecutive match this week by outplaying experienced Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-4, 7-5.

As soon as he produced one of his trademark drop shots to clinch match point, Janowicz – all 6-foot-8 of him – fell to the ground in tears.

“I was crying like a baby – a big baby,” Janowicz said. “I could never expect something like this. For me … this is still like I cannot believe this, actually. How is this possible? I came here just to play qualifications and suddenly after a few days I’m in the final. I don’t know how I did this, but tomorrow final is waiting for me. Wow!”

The man whose parents had to scrape and save and still did not have enough money to buy him a plane ticket to Melbourne last January – even though his ranking would have gotten him into the qualifying competition – will be receiving a check for at least $301,476. Should he register another upset and win the title, it will be $614,851.

Prize money on the Challenger circuit, where Jerzy has been plying his trade, is too low for anyone wanting to hire a coach – as he has done for the past four years – and travel to distant parts. Only main-draw players on the ATP Tour get their hotel room paid. All players pay their own airfares.

And sponsors in Poland, apparently, were not forthcoming. As he sat there in his plain white T-shirt with the name of Babolat – his racket company – on it, Janowicz was asked if he thought that would change now.

“The street next to my house in Lodz is actually completely blocked,” he replied with a grin. “There are about nine or 10 TV cars, and there is no way to get to my house. So I think after this final I have a chance to find some really good sponsors.”

Janowicz outplayed Simon with the same brand of aggressive, free-hitting tennis that saw him blast his way past Philipp Kohlschreiber, Marin Cilic, Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic with losses in only two sets. Janowicz’s serve is an obvious weapon, but it is the variety in his game that has been causing his opponents so many problems.

“Against this type of player, if you want them having doubts and hesitating, you need to serve perfectly,” Simon said. “You need to show them they will not have opportunities. I was not able to do that. He took some risks and he succeeded. I felt he is very confident right now and having fun when he is playing.”

Janowicz always has considered himself mentally tough, but he was in uncharted waters here. In the deep end of one of the world’s biggest tournaments, he wasn’t sure how he was going to react to the demands of a semifinal.

“I never had a problem with stress,” he said. “But, honestly, I could never expect I would be that strong because this was my first semifinal in this kind of tournament. I didn’t know if I’m strong enough to handle that kind of pressure. Today I played against a French guy and the French crowd was helping him a lot – clapping after my double faults, after missing first serve. Somehow – I don’t know how – I was able to handle it. I hope tomorrow I will do the same.”

It will not be easy. His opponent will be tireless little roadrunner David Ferrer, a seemingly permanent fixture at No. 5 in the world, and one of the few top players this week who managed to live up to expectations.

Michael Llodra, the second Frenchman on view, did his best to make his serve-and-volley game work by throwing everything at the Spaniard, but the 32-year-old was not as sharp as he had been against Sam Querrey in the quarterfinal and missed volleys at crucial moments.

So Ferrer went through to the fourth ATP Masters1000 final of his career with a 7-5, 6-3 win. Ferrer has yet to win a title at this level, and although he will be the firm favorite to do so this time, there is this young and still innocent Polish giant who seems capable of anything right now. It could be some match.