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Polish Power: Aiming For Consistency

DEUCE Australian Open 2012

Fyrstenberg, Matkowski© Getty ImagesMariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski have an 11-20 record in tour-level finals.

The 'Polish Power' are hoping to buck a trend of early season losses and build consistency on the back of their performances at last year's US Open and Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

They know the stat. It has become a source of irritation. Through the first six months in each of the past five years, Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski have struggled to accumulate match wins. In 2007, they had a 11-15 win-loss record through Wimbledon; then in 2008, 14-14; 2009, 11-11 and in 2010, they were 13-14 in the same period.

After their eighth first-round exit of 2011, at the All England Club, the Poles knew something had to change. The streak of losses to start a season had become a tradition. It had simply happened too often. At the Apia International Sydney, Lukasz Kubot told DEUCE, "Fortunately, the past three or four years they have played the last six months unbelievably well. They can lose to anyone, but they can also beat everybody."

Poles, Rome May 2011Late-season surges had become their forté. They had dined at the top table, among the sport's elite at the season-ending championship, for four of the past five years, but a 7-13 match record through the grass-court major did not inspire them with confidence. Not this time. The dream of qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, an annual goal, was hopeful at best. "Our partnership really should be a big advantage at the start of the year, when new teams are developing," Fyrstenberg told DEUCE, with a hint of dejection, in London. "But we don't take it!"

Chastened by their Wimbledon loss, they were astute enough to immediately return to basics. "We knew we couldn't continue playing like this, if we wanted to reach the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and rank in the Top 10," Matkowski, the team's leader, told DEUCE. "So we decided to play the hard courts as best we could. We forgot about the past and focused on the US Open Series."

Dismantling their games and eradicating the excuses for their losses, they bounced back by re-energising a 20-year partnership that was formed on the junior circuit. Focusing on point construction, Fyrstenberg and Matkowski first ensured that the stroke every great team is founded on - the serve - had added bite and was a reliable source of cheap points.

"If we serve well right from the start, all our game falls into place."

It had been their banker in the past. As Fyrstenberg admitted, "If we serve well right from the start, our game falls into place - our returns, volleys and intercepting at the net." Kubot added, "Marcin is a big server and Mariusz is very quick, with good hands at the net. Because of no-Ad scoring, on the deciding points, all the responsibility falls to Marcin, who is a great returner. That's why they are a dangerous team."

Matkowski confessed, "When you're not performing well and you're losing in a lot of first rounds, you can start to panic. You don't feel loose on the court and you get nervous. In doubles, when two or three points matter, it is very easy to lose a few matches that you should win. That's what happened in the first part of the season. At Wimbledon, we played our worst match, but looked forward."

With memories of poor form still fresh, three quarter-final exits were encouraging, but not mind-changing, ahead of the US Open. "Yes, we'd won some matches, but we still knew we'd had a bad year," recalled Fyrstenberg. "We really didn't think we'd get to the [Barclays ATP World Tour] Finals, so perhaps that relaxed us. We had nothing to lose and, in hindsight, that was the key. We were practising more and mentally we tried to relax and tried not to put too much pressure on ourselves."

Poles, New York City, September 2011Fyrstenberg and Matkowski, nicknamed the 'Polish Power' by Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, went on to reach the US Open final, where they lost to Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner 6-2, 6-2. Although they had not played to their potential in the championship match, the duo used it as a springboard for the rest of the season and lined-up at The O2 in London.

Among the Top 8 teams, the Poles felt at home. "We always find it easier to play against the top teams, because we know them pretty well," said Matkowski. "Against other teams there is always an element of surprise, we don't know what to expect. We're looking at what they are doing rather than focusing on our own games. Against the top teams, we can fully concentrate. Everybody knows everything about everybody. You can't throw something out your pocket and expect it to work. Whoever plays better on any given day, wins."

Both players admit that if they are tense, they perform better. "To play our best matches, we have to be nervous," said Fyrstenberg. "Our worst matches come when we don't expect our opponents to play well. Not that we under-estimate anyone, but we don't relax and make mistakes. We need nerves. You don't get confidence from practising, you get it from playing."

At the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, in November, everything fell into place. Perfect practise at The O2 had fine-tuned Fyrstenberg and Matkowski's serves, and both were aggressive on return - particularly in victories over Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, and Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes. They eventually lost to Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor 7-5, 6-3 in the final, but the shot of confidence proved to themselves and Kubot that major silverware may be around the corner.

"The US Open final and [Barclays] ATP World Tour Finals gave them a great deal of confidence and experience," said Kubot, in Sydney. "Now, I am certain they are a team capable of winning a Grand Slam within the next two years. I believe their best chance will be at the Australian Open or US Open.

"Our goal is to be one of the top teams and hopefully, in future, the World's No. 1 team."

"They match-up together very well. Marcin is like a volcano, a very emotional person. Mariusz is very quiet. They are two different personalities and that is why they play so well on the court. I think if they improve their consistency, playing a little bit better from the back [of the court] - because a lot of new teams now play on the baseline - they can win the big tournaments."

Match wins' build confidence and good practise builds consistency. "The top players have maybe two matches per year, which they lose by accident," said Fyrstenberg. "Like the Bryans at the [2011] US Open - the first time since the 2001 Australian Open that they were knocked out in the first round of a major. If we want to be Top 4, we know we have to perform better at the majors."

Matkowski admitted, "Grand Slams are the most important things in our sport. We tasted what it was like to reach the US Open final and we want to reach more in future. Our goal is to be one of the top teams and hopefully, in future, the World's No. 1 team. Potentially we have an opportunity to achieve that ambition." 

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