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