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Alex Kuznetsov Q&A: Roland Garros Bound

Player Q&A

Kuznetsov© InstudioEphoto.comKuznetsov won the Sarasota Challenger en route to clinching the Roland Garros wild card.

The last time Alex Kuznetsov played on the big stage at Roland Garros, he was 17 and facing off against Gael Monfils in the boys' singles final on Court 1. Nine years later, the Tampa resident will return to Paris for his main draw debut – albeit with a titanium rod in his leg – after winning the USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge. 

The wild card is awarded to the American player who finishes with the best combined results at two of three USTA Pro Circuit clay-court challengers. Kuznetsov began the three-event series ranked No. 271 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, but clinched the berth in large part to his performance at the Sarasota Challenger, where he came through the qualifying before capturing the title. He also reached the quarter-finals at the Savannah Challenger last week. 

Just a year after his promising junior showing in Paris, Kuznetsov was involved in a severe car accident, breaking his right femur, which required the insertion of a titanium rod and screw to repair. Kuznetsov has appeared in the main draw of a Grand Slam event five times, winning his first-round match at the Australian Open in 2007. caught up with Kuznetsov in Tallahassee, Fla., discussing his recent form, how he feels playing on clay, his early Paris memories and more… 

What have you done well the past few weeks to clinch the USTA’s Roland Garros wild card?
I would say I’ve played pretty consistent the last three weeks. I’ve played smart and have taken it one match at a time, as clichéd as that sounds. I got through the qualifying in Sarasota and gained more confidence with every match. My game started to progress there. I feel it’s come a long way from a month ago.

It will be your first main draw in Paris. Now that you've secured your spot, will your plans and preparation for the next month change in any way? 
I’ll have a week off back in Tampa at Saddlebrook, where I’ll continue my training and working hard off the court. That doesn’t really change, even if I wasn’t preparing for a Grand Slam. Obviously playing in Paris will be three out of five sets, so I’ll have to ramp it up a bit more. But I’ve played a lot of matches the past few weeks, so I’m match tough and will be ready to go once I get over there.

How satisfying is it to be in the main draw, given that you were unable to come through the qualifying four previous times?
It’s very satisfying. I’ve played really well these last few weeks and have beaten a lot of players who are good on clay. To be in the main draw there for the first time is a great experience and achievement for me, so I look forward to it.

How does your game suit clay in comparison to other surfaces?
I don’t think I change my game up too much when I play on clay. I try to play an all-around game and come to net occasionally. I’m not a clay-court specialist by any means. I look to have an aggressive style. If anything, the clay has given me more time with shots and work my game. I’ve gotten a lot of confidence through all the matches I’ve played.

Prior to winning the Sarasota Challenger, you entered that event ranked No. 271. You've since jumped back up to 176. Your career-high ranking is No. 158. With the way you are playing, is improving this on your mind or are you more results driven?
It’s not on my mind at all to be honest. I’ve really focused with how I’m playing and feeling on court. I think rankings take care of themselves as long as you’re playing well. I didn’t expect all this success immediately, but I have been working hard this year. It was the same in the off season. So I guess it’s true that hard work pays off. I’ll keep working harder and hopefully I’ll achieve a ranking that’s better than my career high.

Your entry into Paris is a bit similar to Brian Baker's. You both are former junior finalists at Roland Garros and have overcome serious injuries. Are you able to take any inspiration from what Baker did last year in making the most of the wild card?
What Brian went through is remarkable, coming back and having the success last year and at the start of this year. I know he’s doing everything possible he can to get back on the court. What he did last year was exceptional. I’m not sure it is possible to duplicate what he did, but I’ll try my best.

Reflect on your memories of reaching the junior final in 2004?
The memories are great. My family was over there with me, including my parents and grandparents. I remember every match being close. There were a lot of three-setters. I went up against some really good players like Gael Monfils, who won the junior titles at the Australian Open before and Wimbledon after. I think we played on Court 1 for the final. There were a lot of people watching, so it was a really cool experience for me. It was exciting.

How many friends/family will be pushing to make the trip?
Ha. Not many. I think I’ll have my girlfriend there. My family members will stay home and let me stay focused over there. Obviously they’ll be watching and livescoring. But none of them will make the trip.

It's been eight years since you had the titanium rod and screw placed in your right leg. Can you feel the difference anymore between your two legs? 
I’m a lot stronger now than I was back then. I would say my right leg is stronger than my left, because it’s my dominant leg. I feel no different. I am fit and strong. It hasn’t affected me.

And has anyone nicknamed you Titanium or Rodman?
No! Nicknames like that don’t stick. Someone once called me the bionic man but that was it.

So what do you go by?
Just Kuz. That’s the main nickname. It keeps my last name simple.

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