Kuba Kowalski’s 3.8 grade-point average as a Fordham University finance major has earned him inroads on Wall Street. Most of his recent lessons have come from Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Kowalski, the Rams’ top singles tennis player, is a friend and occasional hitting partner of Radwanska, and was her guest at the U.S. Open in New York last week. He spent time after matches with the second-seed from Poland, saw the defending-champion Djokovic prepare to take the court, and followed the top-seeded Federer through interviews in the halls of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 22-year-old junior returned to academics two days ago. He worked an internship with UBS AG’s wealth-management group a year ago and will spend a couple of days this semester observing a financial adviser at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“As a tennis player, there is a lot to learn here from just observing the best in the world,” Kowalski said in an interview at the Open after Radwanska’s fourth-round loss to Roberta Vinci on Sept. 3. “I’ve had a chance to see the process from beginning to end, and it’s definitely motivating.”
Kowalski, Poland’s second-ranked junior when he was in high school, said he chose Fordham in the Bronx in part because it’s about 45 minutes to Times Square by public transportation. He’s not the first player to choose the Rams because of the city’s business opportunities, according to Fordham coach Cory Hubbard, who said the location is “the No. 1 thing I push” when recruiting.
“Our competitive advantage is the gateway to New York City, and the gateway to internships in the world of business and finance,” Hubbard said in a telephone interview.
Between trips to see Radwanska at the Open, Kowalski hit with Pablo Salame, global co-head of the securities division at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
“Kuba can certainly hit with plenty of people who are better tennis players than me, so he is definitely using his tennis abilities to network,” Salame said in an e-mail.
Kowalski’s schedule for the new semester includes three to four hours of tennis a day, morning runs or gym workouts, and the brief stint at JPMorgan. He is taking his full slate of five classes mostly at night, the only time he said he could fit them into his schedule.
“Once you’re motivated, you don’t get tired as quickly,” Kowalski said. “I want to perform as well as I can, that’s the pressure I put on myself.”
Howard Endelman, associate head coach at Columbia University in Manhattan, recognizes that drive. A former investment banker in Merrill Lynch’s industrials group and a doubles player at the 1988 U.S. Open, Endelman said competitive tennis prepares people for the rigors of a career in finance.
“Discipline, self-reliance, delayed gratification, preparation and hard work -- there are a lot of transferable skills,” Endelman, 47, said in a telephone interview.
Karina Byrne, a UBS spokeswoman, confirmed in an e-mail that Kowalski worked an internship last year in the company’s wealth-management department. Darin Oduyoye, a spokesman for JPMorgan, confirmed in an e-mail that Kowalski will be shadowing a company financial adviser for a day or two.
Kowalski grew up in a Krakow apartment adjacent to a row of tennis courts, and started playing at 7 when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He met Radwanska, another Krakow native, five years ago on the tennis court.
The two keep in touch during the year and hit together when they’re both in Poland. He credits her with improving his game, both on the court and in his mental approach.
“He’s studying nearby now so it’s great to see him and it’s great that he’s able to watch,” Radwanska, 23, said in an interview.
Kowalski taught himself English after high school and enrolled in 2010 at San Diego State University, a Top 50 tennis program, but transferred to Fordham in search of a more-rigorous academic environment. He sat out his first semester in the Bronx and joined the tennis team last year.
During Kowalski’s first season at Fordham, the Rams finished 17-10, their highest win total in 16 years, and pulled in the nation’s No. 27 recruiting class, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network. Hubbard said Kowalski could become the school’s first nationally ranked singles player this year.
“He demands perfection from us the same way he does for himself, and it pushes all of us beyond our limits,” J.J. Tauil, Kowalski’s sophomore doubles partner, said in an e-mail.
Kowalski spent four weeks this summer in Poland, where his 15-year-old sister Marta plays on the junior circuit. Two days after he returned to America, Kowalski was sitting courtside in the Grandstand with Radwanska’s sister, 43rd-ranked Urszula, and her coach, Tomasz Wiktorowski, watching second-round play.
Later that day he stood next to Andy Roddick in the locker room as the 2003 U.S. Open champion prepared to announce his retirement.
“If he’s spending a little less time on the court this week, that’s all right because just being in that environment will help him,” Hubbard said. “He’s learning through osmosis.”