March 7, 2014
BY: ROBBY VERONESI
In the bitter cold Tuesday afternoon, the match-clinching singles point against No. 42 Georgia Tech came from court six. It was Bartosz Sawicki's first match-clinching win of his young career. Though a sophomore on the roster, Sawicki had to sit out last season and did not become eligible to play for the Vols until this spring.
One of the three Vols which come from countries along the Baltic Sea, Sawicki hails from Poznan, Poland. While he hasn't been a regular in the starting lineup, Sawicki has taken advantage of his opportunities, winning four of his first eight singles matches and two of his first three doubles matches.
On this week's edition of Serve and Volley, `the Polish Punisher' talks about how he came to Knoxville, as well as his celebrity look-alike and what it's like living with a couple of Vols veterans.
Q: This week was a fun week for you. This was the first time you were in the starting lineup since the Oklahoma road trip. What was it like when you heard you would be in the lineup starting (against Georgia and Georgia Tech)?
A: Coach (Sam Winterbotham) always lets us know a couple of days before the match and when he told me I was going to play Georgia, I was surprised but excited. I wanted to play, especially against Georgia and Georgia Tech, and I was really excited I got a chance to play again.
Q: How would you analyze your performance of those two matches?
A: Georgia was pretty different. I was a little nervous because Georgia is always a big, big match. The performance wasn't great from all the guys. We didn't play our tennis and it wasn't a great performance, but it was a good experience.
Q: It's quite a jump from a Murray State level of tennis to Georgia.
A: Yeah, I played when we went to Oklahoma and played Oklahoma State and Tulsa, then I didn't play for four matches. It's a part of the game. You have to get your chance and take it.
Q: And then, you clinched the match vs. Georgia Tech with your tiebreak win (6-1, 7-6 (3) over Anish Sharma). What's it like to clinch a match?
A: That was a good feeling. That was the first time I had clinched a match and I was looking next to me and Andrew (Dromsky) had his chances. He had a match point at the same time that I did, so I was just trying to win first. It was great finishing the match. All the guys came over to my court.
Q: Anyone who looks at your bio page will notice that you sat out last year. What was it like being forced to sit out and what was that process like?
A: That was pretty hard, especially in the spring when the guys were traveling and playing all the matches, I had to stay here in Knoxville. It was good to see them playing here at home; I could cheer for them and see how they were doing. When they were away, I was always grabbing some snacks and some soda and watch the game on the internet. It was fun, but I always wanted to be on the court and help them win. It wasn't easy.
Q: What did you learn by sitting out that year?
A: I definitely got to know the program, the program's expectations and the conference (SEC). I got to know that the conference was one of the strongest in the country. College tennis is completely different than a tour or juniors. I think it really helped me.
It's completely different. On a tour, it's just playing for yourself. You're by yourself on the court. Nobody can help you. There's no coach on the court. Actually, I was traveling all the time week after week, mostly by myself or with my coach. There's nobody that can support you. It feels like a completely different, but it's still the same. You're on the court, hitting a ball, but it feels different.
Q: How did you find out about UT for the first time? How did you hear about Knoxville?
A: I decided to go to college because it was hard for me to travel by myself around the world. I still wanted to continue studying and college was the only way to play tennis and study. I've known Mikelis (Libietis) since I was 12 and I was talking to him about college and he told me he was here. I did some research on college tennis and Tennessee. I got to know the coaches, I talked to Sam and I came here and I loved it.
Q: What was that transition period like coming from Poznan, Poland, to here?
A: It was pretty hard. I didn't know anybody here but Mikelis. I knew Jarryd (Chaplin) a little bit. I played with him in a tournament in Australia actually before the Australian Open. I didn't remember; he just told me when I got here. I just got to know everybody here. The culture is totally different in the States.
Q: That actually leads into my next question. I know where Poznan is (2.5 hours due east of Berlin), but for those who know nothing about Poznan or Poland or Polish culture, what is different about life in Poland compared to life here?
A: Hmm...What's the difference? The biggest thing I struggle with here is food. It's completely different. I already gained ten pounds. I'm not eating McDonald's every day and eating unhealthy stuff, but I'm getting fat.
Q: Well, what's Polish food like? I take it it's more than just kielbasa and pirogues...
A: Yeah, I mean I love pierogies. I can't find them here; I've looked all over Knoxville. You can't find it. Hunter (Reese) already asked me if I could make some pierogies, so I think I'll have to. I don't know..for sure there's a lot of different things, but I think the guys have made it a lot easier for me with the transition from Poznan to here.
Q: If I were to talk to somebody down here who knew nothing about Poland, what are some things that people should know about Poland?
A: Poland is a great place, the best place in the world. If you've never been to Poland, go to Poznan--you'll love it. That's what I would say. The guys are always making jokes about Poland. I don't like it, but I have to take it. Poznan especially is really nice. The west side and the north are really nice by the Baltic Sea. Both are nice places and we have mountains in the south so we can ski pretty much all year. I like it; it's really nice.
Q: Now you mentioned this a little bit, but you live with Hunter and Colton (Norton). I've heard Hunter is quite the chef. What is it like living with those two?
A: It's great! I couldn't have asked for better roommates than Hunter and Colton. Hunter's cooking almost every day and Colton does the dishes, so I do nothing (laughs). That's not really true....it's great. We just have to take care of the trash, so it's a good deal.
Q: Gosh, that sounds fantastic. So, when did you start playing tennis and how did you get into it?
A: I was about 4 years old. My dad knew this coach in Poznan. He took me to the first practice and I loved it. We'd play a lot of games. I'm pretty competitive, so I always wanted to beat the older kids, so that was fun for me.
Q: And then how did that go from trying to beat all the older kids to actually competing in events?
A: In Poland, you can start to play some tournaments at the age of 10 in state tournaments. I was pretty good at it. I won some tournaments (and) I remember my dad got excited. I love tennis, I just can't imagine myself without tennis.
Q: You have some experience at ITFs (International Tennis Federation) as well. What is that like?
A: It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of tournaments all over the world. Whenever we're going, there's always a group of people we know, traveling with my coach or by myself. Even when I was traveling by myself, there was a bunch of friends at these tournaments. I really liked the time.
Q: Is there a favorite place?
A: I spent a lot of time in Italy. It was great, the food was great.
Q: I'm not sure how true this is, but you've gotten quite a bit of comparison to Matt Damon or some boy band member.
A: I don't know...I can't see it actually. Everybody's calling me Matt Damon, but I can't tell. I don't know who called me first...I think it was Hunter. We were watching a movie and he said `Oh, this is Bart!' I was like, `no', and since that day, everyone started calling me Matt. I think it's kinda funny."