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Engraver's patriotic pride at Polish connection

The Ladies' Singles trophy is displayed on Centre Court.
by Sarah Edworthy
Saturday 7 July 2012

Agnieszka Radwanska strives today to become Poland’s first Grand Slam singles champion of either sex. The last Pole to reach a Grand Slam final was Jadwiga Jedrzejowska, who was runner-up in three finals in the 1930s, including Wimbledon in 1937. One compatriot who is particularly pleased to see the 23-year-old from Krakow at this stage of the Championships is Roman Zoltowski, who has been the official All England Club trophy engraver since 1979.

As he sharpens his array of miniature chisels, ready to commemorate the respective results on the winner's and runner-up's silverware, Zoltowski certainly won’t be worrying about remembering to include every single letter in her first and surname – not only is Polish his first language, but he has also engraved ‘Radwanska’ three times already on Championships silverware. In 2005 Agnieszka won the Wimbledon junior girls' singles titles; and in 2007 her younger sister, Urszula, won both the junior girls' singles and the junior girls' doubles, with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.

In 1995 Zoltowski also had some patriotic pride in twice engraving the name of Aleksandra Olsza, the girl from Katowice, on trophies when she was crowned both junior girls' singles champion and junior girls' doubles champion, playing with Cara Black from Zimbabwe. In 2006, Marcin Gawron added a male Polish presence on Championship silverware by being runner-up in the junior boys' competition.

Zoltowski became the on-site Championships engraver when he was living in Wimbledon and working for Halfhide, the jewellers who supply the trophies and silverware. Born in Poland, Zoltowski and his family moved to the United Kingdom in 1947 after their home had been taken over by the Communist state and turned into a collective farm. After the social upheaval in Poland, Roman, with his brother and sister, decided to buy back their old family home and moved back. Each year it has been his tradition to drive to Wimbledon in his vintage red, open-topped MG from his home near Poznan. “Yes, a 70-year-old driving a 50-year-old car!” he exclaims. “It takes between 14 and 18 hours. I can't fly because my tools are considered offensive weapons.”

The Ladies Singles' final begins the flow that sees Zoltowski and his assistant, Alan Tetlow, work diligently and frenetically on a total of 48 trophies and medals as all the competitions - seniors, veterans, juniors, wheelchair - of The Championships play to a conclusion. In a room under the Royal Box, they sit with their hand implements, eye glasses and an old-fashioned engraving machine from the school of Heath Robinson (it has at least three battered desk lamps taped in snaking formation to shine more light on to the cutting plate).

It's a long drive over the continent each year, and there are many more letters to engrave since the All England Club decided to include Christian names rather than initials three years ago, but he relishes the occasion. “It's the highlight of my year. The year divides into before Wimbledon and after Wimbledon. It's a special moment receiving the trophies after they've been presented to the players, sweaty fingerprints and all!”

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