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Q&A With Igor Kunitsyn

Igor Kunitsyn© Getty ImagesIgor Kunitsyn reached a career-high ranking of No. 35 in August 2009.

Former World No. 35 Igor Kunitsyn discusses his recent progress on the ATP Challenger Tour, the state of Russian tennis and his future goals.

Q: You reached a career-high South African Airways ATP Ranking of No. 35 in June 2009. What elements of your game are you currently working on in order to regain that level?
A: My baseline game has always been good enough to compete with anybody, especially on hard courts, but my serve was never consistent enough. When I started to play big events every week I felt that I needed to improve my serve. So that’s what I am working on the most.

When you reach the Top 50 you play on all surfaces. I definitely must improve my clay-court game; I need to learn how to create more pace myself. If I [can achieve that] I will succeed [and] it will help me on other surfaces too.

Q: How much did winning your first ATP World Tour title in Moscow in 2008 mean to you? Do you feel that you play your best tennis on home soil?
A: Winning at home is huge for all players. I was growing up watching that event on TV and now I am one of the champions. It felt amazing winning in front of my family and friends; beating Marat in the final was a dream scenario! I think most of the players do better at home and I am not an exception. I always did well in Russia.

Q: Do you find that there is a vast difference between playing on the ATP Challenger Tour as opposed to the ATP World Tour? Are players generally more consistent, or do you find that the competition is quite similar?
A:The competition on the ATP Challenger Tour is similar to on the ATP World Tour. Nowadays, all the guys play at a very high level and on a good day anybody can beat anybody. The level of matches is great and it’s very enjoyable for the fans to watch.

Q: You have recorded the majority of your tour-level wins on hard court. What variables of your game do you believe translate the best to hard-court surfaces?
A: I think I can use my quickness, return of serve, and ability to play [my] all-around game much better on hard courts. It just comes naturally to me. Plus I can use my opponent’s pace very well off the ground.

Q: Travelling the ATP World Tour year-round, who would you consider your best friends on tour? Do you prefer to practise or train with any particular players?
A: I do spend a lot of time with Russian tennis players and Davis Cup teammates Igor Andreev, Dmitry Tursunov, Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko. I am also good friends with Ivan Ljubicic (we used to practise together with the same coach, Riccardo Piatti).

Q: Growing up in Vladivostok, Russia, what would you deem the greatest challenge you had to deal with while growing up as a junior? Were the training conditions in Russia conducive to becoming a professional tennis?
A: Training in Vladivostok was not easy at all. Indoor courts were very limited, so I could not practise as much as other players. At the age of 14 I had to start travelling a lot to Moscow and other places to be able to practise with good players and play tournaments (Vladivostok to Moscow is an eight-and-a-half-hour flight!).

So I can tell [you] that growing up there was a big disadvantage for me. I also trained in Italy for a few years when I turned 19.

Q: Currently having three players ranked inside the Top 100, how would you assess the strength of Russian tennis at the moment? Are you impressed with any top-ranked juniors coming up?
A: I think we still have a very good team. I hope that Tursunov will recover soon and Teimuraz Gabashvili and I will come back to [the] Top 100. It’s sad that Andrey Golubev and Evgeny Korolev changed their nationalities. We could have been eight in the Top 100.

I can’t tell you much about juniors coming up. I have trained with Kuznetsov (he won junior Wimbledon last year), and I am very impressed with his game. If he stays healthy my guess is that he will have a great future

Q: Which players did you look up to as junior and which players, if any, did you try and base your game on?
A: I never had an idol but I always loved watching Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. I tried to see something I could use for my game.

Q: What goals would you like to achieve for the remainder of your career? Is regaining a Top 50 ranking the most important goal, or is advancing to the latter stages of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 or Grand Slam event a greater priority?
A: I think I have a lot to improve if I will succeed at that - results will follow. Whether it’s going to be a Grand Slam breakthrough or winning a few more titles, I will take it all!

Q: Finally, if you could disclose one funny locker room story that the ATP fans are not aware of, what would it be?
A: I am not a good storyteller, you better ask Dmitry Tursunov - he is the best at that.

Interview courtesy TennisConnected.com

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