By Martyn Herman
LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) - Hammering down serves, bickering with the umpire and even engaging in cheeky banter with his opponent’s support team, livewire Jerzy Janowicz roared into Wimbledon’s last eight on a momentous day for Poland on Monday.
The 24th seed came through a ferocious duel with grizzled Austrian Juergen Melzer, winning 3-6 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-4 to set up a quarter-final with 130th-ranked compatriot Lukasz Kubot.
Not since Wojtek Fibak reached three consecutive grand slam quarter-finals in 1980 has a Polish man survived until the last eight and two achieved the feat in a matter of minutes.
“It’s unbelievable what is going on,” said the 6-foot-8 Janowicz just as a scoreboard flashed up women’s fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska completing a great day for the Poles by also reaching the quarter-finals.
“This is by far the best thing to happen to Polish tennis,” added the 22-year-old Janowicz who rose 200 places up the rankings last year.
“I went straight to (Lukasz‘s) locker room. We hugged,” he told reporters.
Janowicz had barely stopped signing autographs and throwing his shoes to the Court 12 crowd before, over on the tighter confines of Court 14, Kubot clinched a 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 victory over fellow outsider Adrian Mannarino of France.
The 31-year-old doubles specialist then launched into his celebratory comic ‘can-can’ dance routine, known as “The Kubot”, as the crowd roared their approval.
“Whatever happens one of us will be in the semi-finals which makes history for Polish tennis,” said Kubot. “We are happy about what’s going on right now - it’s magical.”
Whoever wins on Wednesday will become the first Polish man to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam singles event.
Janowicz, who a year ago had to qualify for Wimbledon and went on to reach the third round in his maiden slam, is an animated character on court - a welcome change to the poker-faced demeanour of some players higher up the rankings.
Melzer can be fiery too and the pair ensured there were plenty of sparks flying in front of an enthusiastic crowd on a court that is about as close to muck and nettles as you can get at the All England Club.
Janowicz had problems with his shoes, the net-cord sensor and the line judges - as well as Melzer’s crafty left-handed style - in the early stages.
He smouldered his way through the first two sets, losing the first before cranking up the power to edge the second with an emphatic 7-1 tiebreak.
During the tight second set dominated by serve, Janowicz branded the sensor “useless” after being made to take one seismic first serve again.
He then took exception to Melzer’s support team who greeted their man’s winners with loud shouts of “Jawohl” - sarcastically congratulating the Austrian with the same response.
Later he described the Court 12 surface as “unplayable” after a few tumbles and some quizzical looks during the match.
Despite the histrionics, Janowicz played spectacular tennis, mixing crunching groundstrokes with dabbed drop shots that appear to defy gravity while all the time softening up opponents with a serve that has topped the speed charts at 140mph in this tournament.
He is prone to losses of concentration, though, as he showed when breaking serve in the fourth set, only to hand it back in the next game - prompting some eye-balling and fist-pumping from the wily Melzer.
When Janowicz got the break in the fifth he did not falter and closed out the match before collapsing to the court and kneeling with his head pressed against the grass.
He is getting quite a taste for the All England Club lawns and with Kubot up next, the capital’s sizeable Polish population will be heading to south west London on Wednesday for one of the most unlikely quarter-finals imaginable. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)