WTA Eastbourne semi-final a reminder of Poland’s lost tennis generation

Caroline Wozniacki Eastbourne trophy

WTA Eastbourne 2018 semi-finals. Sabalenka, Radwanska, Wozniacki and Kerber. To most people this doesn’t mean much. However, to many sports fans in Poland, this is a sight that brings about mixed emotions.

On paper, this semi-final line-up features a Belarusian, a Pole, a Dane and a German. But if history had turned out differently, it could have been three Polish players in the semi-final of a huge pre-Wimbledon tournament.

Let’s begin with Caroline Wozniacki. It is a fun experience listening to commentators trying to work out what Piotr Wozniacki is trying to say to his daughter on court. What many don’t know is that even a degree in Danish wouldn’t help you figure out the topic of their conversation as the player and her coach communicate in their mother tongue, Polish.

Caroline’s father and coach, Piotr, was born in Poland. He was a talented football player and even played for the likes of Miedz Legnica and Zaglebie Lubin before moving to Denmark in 1985. Five years later Caroline, or Karolina as preferred by her dad, was born.

It proved to be a difficult period for the family as continuous knee injuries forced Piotr to retire at the young age of 25. As he moved into the world of business young Caroline was just beginning her tennis career.

Her father would take her to tournaments in Wroclaw and Poznan as he hoped his daughter would one day go on to represent Poland. However, soon it became apparent that this wasn’t an option as it meant having to officially re-register back in Poland; this was not something that the family wanted to do at the time.

Instead, when Caroline was 15 years old and began to make significant progress, the family decided to move to Monaco in order to enhance her chances of making it in the competitive world of tennis.

Despite moving country to country, the pair continue to speak Polish. This is down to the father’s long held belief that you should always teach your children the mother tongue.

In the Eastbourne semi-final, Wozniacki took on her fellow Pole, Angelique Kerber. German readers will no doubt disagree with that previous sentence however, it is a fact that the player currently holds dual citizenships.

Despite being born in Bremen, one of her first major successes in tennis was becoming the junior champion in Poland.

Just like Wozniacki, Kerber is a fluent Polish speaker and her parent and grandparents are of Polish origin. In 2012 Kerber changed her residence to Puszczykowo, which is a little town outside of Poznan. This is also the place where Kerber’s grandfather started a tennis club in her name.

Nevertheless, Kerber has previously admitted that despite her roots, she did spend most of her life in Germany and that is why she proudly flies the Deutschland colours.

The third player in this Eastbourne semi-finals jigsaw is Agnieszka Radwanksa. While the former Wimbledon finalist does represent Poland, thing could have very easily turned out differently.

Radwanska spent seven years in Germany as a child. Just a few months after her birth, the family decided to move across the border which was also where Agnieszka’s sister, Urszula, was born.

It was in Germany where Radwanska started playing tennis and discovered her love for the sport. With her father as the coach, she quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the top youngsters in the world. Her big breakthrough came in 2005 when she claimed the Wimbledon girl’s title with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Tamira Paszek.

Imagine if Radwanska and her family would have never moved back to Krakow. This would have left the country stripped of three world class players of the same generation.

While the Poles will no doubt be relieved that at least one of their stars is proudly wearing the white eagle on her chest, they will always support one of their own, no matter what colours they wear. But it is no doubt a bitter sight, with many describing it as a lost Polish golden generation.

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