Kukushkins set on-court couplegoals

World no. 74 Mikhail Kukushkin is coached by a woman — Anastasia — who also happens to be his wife.
Mikhail Kukushkin has reached the quarterfinals of the Tata Open Maharashtra
Mikhail Kukushkin has reached the quarterfinals of the Tata Open Maharashtra

PUNE: At first glance, Mikhail Kukushkin is your everyday tennis player. The Kazakh is one among a plethora of players who have touched the promised land — the men’s top-50 — but now reside just outside of it.

The now World No 74 has enjoyed deep Grand Slam runs and pulse-pounding Davis Cup wins, apart from upsetting top-10 players. To cut a long story short, apart from this sport’s high priests, players like Mikhail can be found in almost every postcode.

Yet, there is something very unique about the art that Mikhail practices every day. He is coached by a woman — Anastasia — who also happens to be his wife.

Why is that strange, you may ask. Woman coaches are a very, very rare commodity on the men’s Tour (true even for most of the top women’s players).

Among the leading men, only Andy Murray — a one-time student of Amelie Mauresmo — had taken this route. There are others like Denis Istomin and the upcoming Andrey Rublev, but both are coached by their mothers.

Mikhail was one of the earliest men’s player to appoint a woman not belonging to his family as coach (he brought Anastasia on board in 2009, before marrying her in 2011). The 30-year-old — from Volgograd (Russia), before becoming a Kazakh citizen in 2008 — has no idea as to why there isn’t more acceptance for player-coach relationships like his.

“I don’t know why the tennis world doesn’t understand that a woman can be a good coach. My wife was a former player. She went to a sports university for becoming a coach. How many male coaches have that kind of education? Not many.”

That is true. But their relationship has now become a regular target for jibes. “I can hear jokes behind my back on a daily basis from players, coaches and fans,” Mikhail says with a sigh. “I do try and explain sometimes that this isn’t some joke. Then, I give up.”

Unsurprisingly, the extent of these jokes has made Anastasia weary. “I don’t mind the jokes but it’s tough for my wife. So she doesn’t like being on the court too much. We do a lot of off-season work and between tournaments, but it gets really difficult sometimes.”

However, Mikhail won’t have it any other way. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am. So many coaches on the Tour just sign up, throw a few balls, say, ‘good shot’, collect their cheques and move on. One big problem is to find someone who cares. I’m really happy with my relationship.”

While Mikhail has given up trying to bring the world around to modern ideas, he hasn’t given up on becoming a top-50 player. “I have been there before. The main thing is to stay injury-free and play one whole season.”

Cilic admits to IPTL issue

Marin Cilic acknowledged that Mahesh Bhupathi’s IPTL ran into financial issues, which didn’t let fourth season happen. “Yeah, there were some issues (player-payment problems) and that was a bad thing that happened for an event that was so successful.”

Select results: Men’s singles (2nd round): Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA x8) bt YUki Bhambri (IND) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, Gilles Simon (FRA) bt ROberto Bautista Agut (ESP x3), Marin Cilic (CRO x1) bt Ramkumar Ramanathan (IND) 6-4, 6-4, Benoit Paire (FRA x4) bt Marton Fucsovics (HUN) 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6), Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ x7) bt Laslo Djere (SRB) 7-5, 7-6 (5).

swaroop@newindianexpress.com

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