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Bogie's Big Adventure

DEUCE Australian Open 2012

Bogomolov Jr.© Getty ImagesAlex Bogomolov Jr. reached the Los Angeles and St. Petersburg semi-finals in 2011.

An injury scare and a new set of faces inspired Alex Bogomolov Jr. to live up to his true potential. In 2011, he was voted the ATP's Most Improved Player of the Year.

Three years ago, Alex Bogomolov Jr. found himself integrated into a city of eight million people. Skyscrapers, subway stations and sightseers were a world far away from Bogomolov's familiar settings of arenas, airports and athletes. He was no longer someone defined by his professional tennis ranking, but rather his ability to hustle the busy streets of New York City.

Having undergone left wrist surgery in January 2009, Bogomolov's tennis career was in jeopardy. Left with the uncertainty that he might not step foot on court again, and carrying $40,000 debt on his American Express card, Bogomolov was forced to join the millions of Americans seeking employment in an unfavorable economic climate.

"I was working from three to seven p.m., Monday through Friday."

Bogomolov's predicament didn't stop there. With no income to support himself, or then girlfriend, now fiancée, Luana Goncalves, the two turned to her parents for a place to live. "I had no idea what to tell them about how I was going to support her if we were to get engaged and married," Bogomolov confessed to DEUCE, in Miami, during December's off-season. "The wrist surgery was frightening, because, before I had it, the doctor said that there's a big chance that even though we do this operation, I would not be able to use my left hand for tennis."

Bogomolov Jr.Known for possessing a gritty, determined style of play on court, Bogomolov applied that same perseverance to his job hunt, landing the role of Director at Gotham Tennis Academy. "I went to an interview there and somehow I got the position," reflects Bogomolov. "I was working from three to seven p.m., Monday through Friday, and I was on a salary. That meant that I would have a lot of free time to give lessons, so I would start them early in the morning and then hold some after the clinic, before catching the train back to New Jersey."

Noteworthy victories over the likes of Tommy Haas, Mardy Fish and Fernando Gonzalez were distant memories, but Bogomolov's new line of work was the signal of better things to come. Through teaching children in Manhattan, he found an unexpected source of inspiration. "I was around kids that were very motivating," says Bogomolov. "They tried hard and continued to persist. While I was helping them, they had no idea that they were doing the same thing for me."

Little did Bogomolov know there would be a silver lining in drawing motivation from his students, as that April, came the news that changed his perspective forever.

When Goncalves revealed she was pregnant, Bogomolov's mentality turned a corner. He had been tentatively training throughout his rehab, but the news of his pending fatherhood erased all of his precautions. "The next day, I was hitting backhands through pain," admits Bogomolov. "Then, the following week or so, I was hitting harder. I still had a lot of pain but I worked through it and dealt with it. I never really thought that the pain would ever stop, but I don't think I ever psychologically gave up on tennis even though my wrist wasn't healing."

Bogomolov Jr.Though he was still in debt, Bogomolov vowed to give his tennis career another shot, hiring Yoav Schab as his coach. Making consistent progress on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2010, Bogomolov's fortune changed for good in July. Playing the Kennedy Funding Invitational Tennis Tournament exhibition, he defeated Michael Russell in the final, to win, as fate would have it, a $40,000 purse, in front of his family and friends in Nyack, New York.

"I would consider myself a go big or go home kind of guy," declares Bogomolov. "I always had the belief in myself that things were going to change. As soon as I won that event, I paid off the credit card as I don't like to carry debt. It's just always a wrong move. They cut my limit by 60 per cent though!"

Goncalves credits her parents for providing Bogomolov with an extra incentive to do well. "They were there for me and my son when he wasn't home," remembers Goncalves. "I think that gave him the motivation to do well knowing that he was in good hands. It's tough moving back home to live your parents, but in the end, I don't think we could have done it without them, without that opportunity financially for them to support us. Alex loves family, so to come home to a full house was a lot of fun and something for him to look forward to."

"He's tightened up the screws all over the place"

Last season was a breakthrough year for "Bogie", who found that his self-belief took off after winning the Dallas Challenger. "After I won in Dallas, that gave me enough confidence for the next week. And the next week gave me enough confidence for the week after that," says Bogomolov. "I think everything was done right with my team, my family, with everyone supporting me. Everything fell into place after all the negative things I went through. I think that motivated me to make one big push."

Dmitry Tursunov agrees that motivation played a pivotal role in Bogomolov experiencing newfound success. "When you feel like you're putting in the work and begin moving up the rankings, that recharges the motivation battery so to speak," Tursunov told DEUCE, last week, at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha. "I think he feels he deserves it, and when you combine that with putting in the work, it creates a landslide effect, and I think that is what happened. He's tightened up the screws all over the place and created a much stiffer structure to try and rattle."

Murray, Bogomlov, Miami, March 2012With an upgraded forehand and improved backhand slice, Bogomolov's ranking rose 132 spots in 2011, notching 27 tour-level victories along the way to finish the season at No. 34 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. The 28 year old scored wins against Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, reached the third round at Wimbledon and the US Open. He also advanced to the Farmers Classic and St. Petersburg Open semi-finals. He also qualified for, and won, main draw matches at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati.

"I really didn't feel like I was making such strides until I ended the year at No. 34," states Bogomolov. "Not once this whole year did I look back at a week and think, 'wow, that was a big jump. That was incredible.' I never looked at it like that. I took it as a gradual step by step. I was always looking forward to the next tournament."

"His goal is to just make our son Maddox proud"

Tursunov feels Bogomolov always had the ability to do well, and it was just a matter of fine-tuning his shots and executing to make an impact. "His game has always involved grinding the opponent down and being tenacious. He's been doing that better in all facets of his game," says the Russian. "He's quicker, keeps the ball in play longer. All these tiny differences – improving his serve, forehand and backhand seem small, but when you add them all together, that creates a huge difference. I think very few players have been able to move up as much as he did last year."

Bogomolov, London, November 2011Bogomolov's radical rise up the South African Airways ATP Rankings didn't go unnoticed by Tursunov and his peers, who voted him the ATP's Most Improved Player of the Year. "That was the highlight of the year for me," Bogomolov states. "I've been around these players for a while. I've had a few run-ins with some of the guys and some tough battles on the court. It was really cool to see how they felt. Nobody tells you to your face that they like you or don't like you. This award is amazing as I felt the players put their differences aside and respected me for the hard work."

In 2012, Bogomolov will represent his native Russia, and is ready to take full advantage of his career-high ranking. "I'm really looking forward to being seeded at ATP World Tour events and playing tournaments I haven't been to before," says Bogomolov. "I'm also excited to just be in the main draw, as having to go through qualifying is one of the most brutal experiences a player goes through on tour, besides the ATP Challenger Tour. I think the Challenger level is what shapes a player. Some players get out of it faster, some take their time, and others are never able to make the transition to the tour level."

For Goncalves, she believes Bogomolov's accomplishments revolve around representing his family. "His goal is to just make our son Maddox proud and have the opportunity for him to understand his dad is a professional tennis player," she says. "A lot of things will come into play over the next two years, but it's a good start for him to be near 30 in the world. Hopefully, by being seeded and automatically [getting] into tournaments, he'll have the chance to progress even higher in 2012."

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