WIM­BLE­DON 2015 Broady gives home fans start they craved

Be­hind ev­ery great man there is a great woman . . . and jet-set power cou­ple are look­ing to prove it against world No.3


LIAM’S A-LEAP­ING: Bri­tain’s Liam Broady savours his mo­ment of tri­umph in the first round of the men’s sin­gles. The world No.182 beat Marinko Mato­se­vic 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

IF the ap­peal of the Kar­dashi­ans ever fades, per­haps the Kukushkins might be deemed ripe for a re­al­ity TV se­ries of their own. The most in­trigu­ing as­pect of the life and times of Mikhail Kukushkin, the world No.58 from Kazhakhstan who will meet Andy Mur­ray in the Wim­ble­don first round on Cen­tre Court later to­day, may be that he liked work­ing with his coach so much that he mar­ried her.

Kukushkin and Anas­ta­sia Kukushkina, with whom the Kazakh be­gan work­ing back in 2009, have been wed­ded since 2011 and while their un­ortho­dox ar­range­ment seems to work for the pair, Mur­ray can’t en­vis­age be­ing tu­tored by his wife Kim any time soon. “I wouldn’t have thought so,” said the world No.3, whose new spouse, like Kukushkina, was a tal­ented ten­nis player when she was younger. “She coaches me on a lot of things but not ten­nis.”

While Mur­ray’s re­cruit­ment of Amelie Mau­resmo is a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward con­trac­tual mat­ter – apart, of course, from the im­pend­ing birth of her first child – the in­ter­min­gling of this Kazakh pair’s pro­fes­sional and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships brings up mul­ti­ple rather im­per­ti­nent and im­po­lite ques­tions. Could he, for in­stance, sack his wife if re­sults got so bad that he felt he had to take ac­tion? Or could she be per­suaded to jump ship, if one of the game’s big hit­ters like Roger Fed­erer de­cided to make her an in­de­cent pro­posal? “I am not for sale!” jokes Kukushkina.

All jok­ing aside, deal­ing with ei­ther sce­nario would be com­plex and Kukushkin des­per­ately hopes he never has to con­front them. Like Mur­ray, from the mo­ment he took this de­ci­sion he has al­ready faced more than his fair share of scep­ti­cism from the re­main­der of the male ten­nis world about whether such an ar­range­ment could work.

“Ev­ery player has up and down sit­u­a­tions in his game, and some play­ers think this is be­cause of the coach, not be­cause of him­self,” he says. “But I know that if I play badly, it is not be­cause of my coach, it is be­cause I pre­pared badly or my phys­i­cal con­di­tion is bad. So it is not about chang­ing the coach. It is about do­ing some­thing about it my­self.

“Why shouldn’t there be more fe­male coaches in men’s ten­nis?” he added. “For me, for Andy, and there is another guy – De­nis Is­tomin – who is coached by his mother. Hav­ing a fe­male coach is work­ing well. But some play­ers were very scep­ti­cal about our re­la­tion­ship as coach and player.”

It cer­tainly can’t make life very easy at times. As hard as the pair try to keep the two strands of their re­la­tion­ship sep­a­rate, there are mo­ments when the odd bad match or prac­tice ses­sion car­ries over into their home life. Kukushkina says am­bigu­ously that she has “dif­fer­ent ways to mo­ti­vate him” and seems to ap­pre­ci­ate the sug­ges­tion that per­haps she should force him to take the bins out or do the wash­ing up as a pun­ish­ment for a bad prac­tice ses­sion. Per­suad­ing tour­na­ment staff to let his coach en­ter many of the play­ers’ ar­eas on the Tour can also be a chal­lenge.

“There are al­ways prob­lems get­ting ac­cred­i­ta­tion as a coach for her,” said Kukushkin, “be­cause the tour­na­ment of­fi­cials think she’s just my girl­friend and I am do­ing it for the pic­ture on the Face­book or what­ever, and they usu­ally don’t want to give her a coach pass. Of course it’s tough to com­bine the ten­nis and just usual life but we are to­gether for many years,” he added. “We are used to it. But some­times when I prac­tice bad, or have a bad match, or am play­ing badly, she is re­ally dis­ap­pointed with me.”

Kukushkina’s cre­den­tials for a coach­ing ca­reer are in fact fairly

Of­fi­cials think she’s just my girl­friend and I am do­ing it for the pic­ture on the Face­book, and they usu­ally don’t want to give her a coach pass

im­pec­ca­ble. A tal­ented player un­til her teenage years, she then stud­ied phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at univer­sity in Moscow and be­gan work as a ten­nis coach at the fa­mous Spar­tak Club. The pair met at roughly the same time, but soon it be­came clear that Kukushkin’s ca­reer was to be di­verted else­where.

The oil and gas-rich Kaza­khstan Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion came in with a size­able pack­age to per­suade him to re­lo­cate and soon he was of­fi­cially based in the Kazakh cap­i­tal of As­tana, play­ing a ma­jor role in a Davis Cup team which has con­sis­tently reached the lat­ter stages of the com­pe­ti­tion in re­cent times. Should they over­come Aus­tralia and Great Bri­tain beat France next month, he and Mur­ray could yet meet up in the semi-fi­nal.

“It was back in 2008, so that is al­ready seven years ago,” says Kukushkin. “As I re­mem­ber, I was about 150 in the rank­ings and all the coaches thought I could be a top-100 player. I knew I had to do some­thing to break through.

“The Kaza­khstan Fed­er­a­tion came to me with good sup­port, the kind of sup­port which I be­lieve is im­por­tant to ev­ery player, and it was a good de­ci­sion to move there,” he added. “Of course I was born in Rus­sia but I feel a lot for Kazhakhstan and most of all I feel just like I am an in­ter­na­tional per­son be­cause I travel so much. Fifty one out of the 52 weeks of the year I stay in ho­tels.”

The 27-year-old is also a sea­soned trav­eller when it comes to the main stages of world ten­nis. He has graced Cen­tre Court twice be­fore, los­ing in

Pic­ture: PA

TRICKY TEST: Mikhail Kukushkin, who was born in Rus­sia but rep­re­sents Kaza­khstan, is Andy Mur­ray’s firstround op­po­nent to­day.

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