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Mom Knows Best

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Denis & Klaudiya Istomin© ATPDenis Istomin's mother Klaudiya has guided him on court from a young age.

Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin is coached by his mother... and he couldn’t be happier.

Denis Istomin exits the courtesy shuttle and walks into the mobile trailer serving as the accreditation office at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. “Here’s a form for  your guest to fill out,” says a friendly tournament official. “She is my coach,” Istomin replies politely, passing along the accreditation sheet. “This happens at every tournament,” Istomin tells me later with a smile. “I know people don’t see too many women coaches on tour.”

And not just any woman. Istomin is coached by his mother, Klaudiya, who has guided her son since his junior days. It’s a rarity for any ATP World Tour player to have a female coach, let alone a mother as his coach. American Donald Young works with his mother, Illona, Marat Safin was coached early in his career by mother Rausa and Jimmy Connors was coached early by his mother Gloria and grandmother Bertha. Former Russian player Andrei Chesnokov was coached by Tatiana Naumko and, during the 1980s, Tim Mayotte traveled with Billie Jean King.

So in Washington in early August it was quite a sight to see Istomin and Donald Young practise together, with their mothers patrolling the sidelines. “It looks funny,” Istomin says. “All the guys’ coaches are men and then you have one court with two guys being coached by their mothers.

“Sometimes I get a look like ‘How is this possible?’ I don’t think there is a problem. A player will practise with his father if he is the coach. I am happy she is my coach because she wants to see my results, not take my money. She works with me because I am her son. We have a good relationship and we understand each other.”

Istomin, who was born in Orenburg, Russia, but who is an Uzbekistan citizen residing in Tashkent, continues: “She does what any other coach does. She’ll hit balls with me and tries to correct my technique, my tactics, everything. She also helps me mentally. If things aren’t going so good and my ranking is down, she tells me not to worry, just to work harder.”

Klaudiya began coaching Istomin from a young age at their local club, where she was a junior coach. With Denis serving as translator, Klaudiya says in Russian: “I do this because he wants me as his coach. I have always coached young boys, so it feels natural for me to be working with an ATP player.”

It was Klaudiya who convinced her son to return to tennis after a devastating 2001 car crash hospitalised him for three months and kept him off the court for two years. Traveling in April 2001 to a Futures event in Tashkent, Istomin suffered a devastating leg injury that required as many as 80 stitches. “I need to thank my mother,” he says. “She believed I could play tennis again and that’s why I came back.”

Istomin reached a career-high No. 57 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings in July this year, but recently has slipped back outside the Top 100 after the points earned during a blazing Challenger run in August 2008 (including back-to-back titles in Uzbekistan) dropped from his ranking. His best result at ATP World Tour level this year has been a run to the Eastbourne quarter-finals.

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