Probably the strangest thing I’ve seen all tournament was former Top 15, now unseeded, Jerzy Janowicz’s second round effort against Gael Monfils. Janowicz won the match in five sets – a highly captivating affair – but what was more intriguing was just how Janowicz arrived to victory.
We saw the Janowicz we have all come to expect in the opening set. He turned the dial up on his aggression from first ball, bludgeoning forehands and serves with no restraint. Those vaporizing shots were accompanied by large exhalations of energy. His normally emphatic grunt was even louder than usual. His high risk style of play, one that usually is plagued by inconsistency, held up.
He kept blasting away, and everything was going in.
After winning the first set 6-4, Janowicz’s hyper-aggressive tendencies caught up to him in a big way in the second. The same flat shots that were going in in the first set began to misfire. You knew it had to happen at some point. It was an inevitability if there ever was one. Before he and the Hisense Arena crowd knew it, he trailed the equally exuberant Frenchman by two sets to one.
Expecting much of the same tactics in the fourth set, I was ill-prepared for Janowicz’s complete change of pace. The man who began the match like a bull in a china shop suddenly scaled back, valuing patience – and precision – over power. The fourth and fifth sets, which he would ultimately win 6-3, 6-3, showed the Polish Hopman Cup champion playing an altogether alien brand of tennis, one unlike any I had ever seen from him before.
Off the serve, we saw a heightened level of variety, which allowed him enhance his own offense, but by using spin instead of sheer power. Indeed, not every serve needs to be a 140 mph rocket, delivered flat and down the middle. Once an opponent begins to recognize the hands you play, it’s easier for them to develop a counter. Giving the dynamic Monfils a steady dosage of heavy kickers, sliders, and body serves worked wonders in the final two sets for 2013’s Wimbledon semifinalist.
From the baseline, Janowicz diverted from the hit-or-miss strategy he had employed to start, and began to work the points, picking his spots with more care and caution.
You know, rather than attempting to blow the cover right off of every ball that came his way.
It was an adjustment that many have wanted to see from him over the last couple of years. Though the former No. 14 can wipe opponents off the court before they even have a chance to settle in, he’s equally capable of self-destructing. There’s almost no doubt that for Janowicz to be successful in 2015 – and years to come – he needs to find the very balance he exhibited against the No. 17 seed.
One thing Novak Djokovic does so well, for example, is pick the appropriate spots to play offense. He is aware that a lot of rallies begin from a neutral position, that it is his job to create his own opportunities to put himself in an offensive position. This is a fundamental of the game, and something that Janowicz has struggled to accept throughout his career. Until the last two sets of last night’s match, there was no true indication that he was ever going to change his ways. The Pole even halted his grunting in the final two sets, which is as good of a reflection as any that he was controlling his aggression.
Janowicz is a naturally offensive player, but unless you are Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, exclusive reliance on offensive shots from neutral and defensive positions will not work over the long haul of a decade-plus long career.
Taking on Feliciano Lopez in round three, Jerzy Janowicz has a very good shot at making the second week Down Under for the first time.
Whether or not he does may entirely depend on him.