Maspeth Teens Serving Notice of Tennis Dreams

BY IAN THOMSON

Nicole Rydzewski/Photo by Ian Thomson

Nicole Rydzewski/Photo by Ian Thomson

Poland has never been known for its tennis players. Since Wimbledon hosted the first major tennis tournament in 1877, only one player born in the country has reached a Grand Slam singles final—her name was Jadwiga Jędrzejowska. She reached the women’s finals of Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the French Open in the late 1930s; she lost on all three occasions.

But a wave of players with Polish backgrounds is suddenly lapping against the highest shores of the women’s game. Currently, seven of the world’s top 160 players speak Polish as their first language, and the trend is not exclusive to the professional level. Two Maspeth teens of Polish heritage have emerged among the top tennis players in New York State, spurred on by the exploits of this new generation.

Nicole Rydzewski, 16, is ranked 13th in her age bracket in Tennis Recruiting Network’s assessment of the top college recruiting prospects in the state. Pauline Syrnik, 15, is ranked 21st in her age group. The girls have known each other since early childhood, growing up together in Maspeth as the daughters of Polish immigrants. Their backgrounds share parallels with the clutch of young women now making an assault on the game’s summit.

Both girls attended this month’s U.S. Open tournament at Flushing Meadows where Caroline Wozniacki reached the women’s final, a result that sees the 19-year-old climb to fifth in the world rankings. Wozniacki’s father was a professional soccer player in Poland before moving to Denmark, where his daughter was born and raised. Polish-born Agnieszka Radwanska, 20, also reached the Top 10 recently, while her younger sister Urszula, 18, has risen to 63rd.

“My dad went to college with their [the Radwanska sisters’] dad in Kraków,” Syrnik said, “and Caroline is really inspiring.”

Rydzewski agreed that Wozniacki’s accomplishments provide impetus to her own game. “She’s so good and she’s mentally tough,” Rydzewski said. “She’s got good strokes. She never gives up during a match. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Those are characteristics that Rydzewski and Syrnik are working to improve upon. Their ambition is to play college tennis and, if they are good enough, to reach professional level, but for now they are benefiting from being part of the phenomenally successful tennis program at St. Francis Preparation School in Fresh Meadows, Queens. The girls’ team is the reigning New York State champion, the 12-time school division champion, and the 10-time Mayor’s Cup winner—a tournament run by the New York Junior Tennis League at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

St. Francis coach John Brennan has engineered this decade of dominance by instilling a strong sense of diligence in his players. “Most high school teams do not practice nearly as hard or nearly as often as we do,” he said. Fortunately, Rydzewski and Syrnik have the perfect role model in Wozniacki to drive them on.

“Pauline is a very hard hitter; she’s a very aggressive baseliner,” Brennan said. “Nicole is not as aggressive but is more mobile. She has very good foot speed. They’re both excellent players.”

Rydzewski’s father was born in Greenpoint to Polish immigrants. He met his wife-to-be while back in Poland and they returned to the U.S. in the early 1990s to be married. “My dad played tennis for fun when he was younger, but he couldn’t afford lessons,” Rydzewski said. “He knows playing tennis is a good opportunity for college scholarships, so he wanted me to get the chance to get one.”

Syrnik’s parents met in Greenpoint after they both left Poland in 1990, although her introduction to tennis was not as natural. “I used to be pretty anti-social,” she confessed. At age 7, her judo-playing father introduced her to the sport to encourage her personal development. “When I was playing tennis, it helped me. I liked the competition, and all the friends you meet,” she said.

The girls, like many in New York’s Polish community, started playing at Greenpoint’s McCarren Park under the tutelage of Miroslaw Pucek. He sees a link between the success of his former pupils and that of second-generation Polish stars such as Wozniacki.

“I came to the U.S. 30 years ago with a dream of becoming a tennis coach,” Pucek said. “It was the same with those parents. They had the contact with the sport.

“Lots of people in Poland couldn’t afford to play. Lots of tennis clubs were police clubs and working class people didn’t want to play there, so this was their dream when they left: to have their children being tennis players.”

Rydzewski is optimistic about the future of the game in the Polish community. “Especially after Wozniacki reaching the (U.S. Open) final, I think more people are going to want to play,” she said. “Because in Poland no one was really that good. People didn’t look into tennis that much. Now maybe they will.”

One Response to “Maspeth Teens Serving Notice of Tennis Dreams”

  1. coachmiro says:

    Paulina start at 4 and have with bartek czernik another best tennis player tutor by coachmiro and his sibllings

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