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First-Time ATP World Tour Winner Spotlight Mikhail Kukushkin

Mikhail Kukushkin© Getty ImagesMikhail Kukushkin is the second Kazakhstani to win an ATP World Tour title this year.

World No. 88 Mikhail Kukushkin became the fifth first-time winner on the ATP World Tour this season after upsetting top-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6(2) Sunday in the final of the St. Petersburg Open.

Final Report caught up with Kukushkin after his maiden title.

How does it feel to win your first career ATP World Tour title?
For me it’s just incredible, this feeling, because I never think that I can win a tournament right now because I was ranked around 90. When I came here I didn’t think I can even play quarter-finals, semis here. I was just concentrating on every match. When I came here in the final, I know that I play against Misha Youzhny. Of course I believe in myself, but I didn’t think that I can win this title. I think right now I don’t understand what happened today. I’m in shock because I didn’t think it’s going to happen with me, and I think I need some time to understand what happens.

How did you approach going into your first final against Youzhny, knowing that you played him in the semi-finals of Moscow last year.
This was the biggest problem for me because the last match for us Youzhny won very easy. His game for me is very tough because he plays a lot of slice, he plays a smart game, and he knows how to play against me. I was thinking that I have to play even more than 100 per cent to win this match. I was lucky that he was sick before the tournament and before he played such tough matches, so today he was very tired and I think this was the deciding point of this win because otherwise Youzhny is such a great player and to play against him when he plays his best is so tough. I think I was a little bit lucky.

Does it make it extra special that you beat a Top 10 player for the first time and in his country?
I didn’t think that he is Top 10 and I’m playing against a Top 10 player. I just know that he’s one of the best players in the world. Of course he played at home and almost everyone in the crowd was supporting him, so of course this is giving me a lot of problems, but I’m very happy with my game and I played till the last point. Also for me it’s the first win against a Top 10 player, and I’m so happy with that.

Was there a part of your game you were most pleased with that enabled you to win the title?
I think this is the stability of my game because from the first match till the last point of the tournament I was playing concentrated on each point. I don’t think about the next game, to win the final, to be in the final. I’m also so happy that I was fighting for every ball. I think this is the part of the game that helped me so much to win because I was fighting for every ball on this tournament.

Now that you have won your first ATP World Tour title, what other goals do you have?
I think I will be around 60 – No. 58 – in the rankings. My next goal will be to get in the Top 50, to play good on this level, and I will try to play good on the bigger tournaments because I never played good on the Grand Slams, the Masters [1000s]. Of course I will try to improve my game, improve my ranking and improve my results.

In September, you helped your country qualify for the World Group in Davis Cup for the first time by beating Switzerland. Talk about what that means for your country’s tennis.
For Kazakhstan it means so much because this tie against Switzerland was the first in history for Kazakhstan in the play-offs, so of course everyone was so happy with that. Everyone supports us there. But I think nobody in the world think that we can beat Switzerland even without Federer. To beat them with the score 5-love, for Kazakhstan team it’s so much because the national federation of tennis there supports tennis so much. They try to help us or the young guys, just everyone who wants to play tennis, they help us so much. Like me, the other guys on the team, the girls, I think this is a big point, the big step for the Kazakhstan team. I hope that tennis in Kazakhstan can be even on a better level than now.

Andrey Golubev became the first player from Kazakhstan to win an ATP World Tour title in July, and now you’re the second player to do so. What are your thoughts on the state of tennis in your country.
Of course Andrey Golubev won the first title for Kazakhstan, and here he played in the St. Petersburg final before. Of course when I see his results I understand that I can also play good as him. Just for Kazakhstan this means so much that two players won titles this year. This results show that now in Kazakhstan the tennis is really on a good level, and everyone from us will hope that we can play even better.

What do you consider the strength or best part of your game, and what is your favourite surface?
My favourite surface is hard court, and I think the best part of my game is the stability of the game – just all ground strokes, I don’t have one of the biggest shot in my tennis. The best part is just the stability of my game.

What are your hobbies or interests away from tennis?
I really don’t have so many hobbies or interests away from the tennis because my life now is tennis, so I don’t have so much time. When I’m not playing I just try to relax and to do something, like to watch some movies; to speak with my friends, family; to read some books. I just stay away from the tennis because it’s so tough always to be inside this game. I just try to relax, to relax my mind, and just to do these things I like.

Is there anyone in your life who has been an influence in your career to help you get where you are today?
Of course, there are so many people who helped me. This is of course my first coach, my father, who said that I could play good. He coached me for 12 years, and he helped me so much with it. Of course, my girlfriend, who coached me for more than one year. After we were together one year, I made the jump in ranking, around 100 position, so I think this is good that we were together. She always tries to help me so much as she can in all parts of my life – with the tennis, with something else, she’s doing everything that can help me for my life.

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