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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 1, 2013
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Tennis Fever
August 1, 2013   
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Sports fans in Poland were elated after three Polish tennis players—Agnieszka Radwańska, Jerzy Janowicz and Łukasz Kubot—made it to the quarterfinals of this year’s Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament for the first time in history. Fans were even happier when Radwańska and Janowicz advanced to the semifinals, even though neither made the finals.

Janowicz and Kubot had to battle it out against each other in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Janowicz lost to Britain’s Andy Murray, who went on to win the men’s tournament. Radwańska, in turn, was defeated by Sabine Lisicki, a German player of Polish origin, in the women’s tournament. Radwańska’s defeat was a painful blow because she was the highest seeded player among the women semifinalists.

Last year Radwańska lost in the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams of the United States. This year the first ever victory for Poland in a Grand Slam tournament seemed within reach on the grass courts of Wimbledon. That dream did not materialize, but even so the three Polish tennis players made the headlines, enjoying celebrity status in the media.

Those in their 50s, like me, may still remember a similar tennis fever in Poland in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the hottest name in Polish tennis was Wojciech Fibak. Millions of viewers were glued to their television sets when Fibak played a thrilling match against Spain’s Manuel Orantes in the final of the 1976 Masters series. Despite holding a 2-1 set lead and leading 4 to 1 in the fourth set, Fibak eventually lost the match in five sets.

In those days, parents in Poland would stand in long lines to sign up their children for tennis classes, lured by the prospect of exorbitant earnings in professional tennis—mind-boggling for anyone living in 1980s communist Poland.

Throughout his career, Fibak made almost $3 million on the tennis court and another $3 million from advertising. Radwańska, 24, has already raked in $12 million and her sporting career is far from over. Janowicz, who is one year younger than Radwańska, has cracked the top 20 of world tennis and has already grossed over $1.1 million. And to think that just recently he could not even afford a plane ticket to play in the Australian Open.

However, magnificent tennis players can turn out to be less than magnificent off the court. Once a legend, Fibak, 61, has recently made the headlines over claims that he “facilitated” meetings between attractive young women and suitably rich “sponsors.” This is not the first time Fibak faced such allegations. Previously, similar claims were leveled against him in France over a decade ago, but the matter never went to court. A formal investigation is unlikely this time, either, but Fibak has come in for much criticism and his image has been badly tarnished.

Radwańska, in turn, recently fell out of favor with many in Poland after posing nude for The Body Issue magazine. Despite being an outspoken Catholic, Radwańska bared it all against a backdrop of tennis balls floating in a pool. Her controversial photo shoot caused a scandal and Radwańska was immediately dropped from a campaign to promote Catholicism.

Janowicz, meanwhile, has managed to remain scandal-free and is the closest thing Polish tennis has to a role model.

Witold Żygulski
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