© Ken Levine/Getty Images

Russia's Alexander Volkov reached the 1993 US Open semi-finals, the high-point of an 11-year career.

Alexander Volkov: 1967-2019

Amiable Russian, who recorded one of the US Open's biggest upsets

Alexander Volkov, who reached the 1993 US Open semi-finals and was a mentor/coach to future champion Marat Safin, has passed away aged 52.

The biggest win of the Russian’s career came in September 1990, when Volkov, five months away from lifting his first ATP Tour trophy in Milan, became the first man to beat a top seed in the US Open first round since 1971.

The left-handed World No. 52 broke the 21-match winning streak of World No. 1 Stefan Edberg, the Wimbledon champion, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-2 to follow in the footsteps of Jan Kodes, who’d beaten John Newcombe in the first round 19 years earlier.

It was the high-point of 17 Top 10 career victories for Volkov, who had originally planned to return to Berlin for a club tournament at the end of the week. Volkov would later advance to the 1992 US Open quarter-finals and 1993 semi-finals, where he lost to Pete Sampras both times.

The son of an engineer started playing tennis as a right-hander at the age of 10, but five years later suffered an accident when he fell down a steep bank and broke his shoulder. Sidelined for six months, another accident soon forced Volkov to consider switching sports to ice hockey or football.

Volkov eventually returned to the Kaliningrad Tennis Club, at the request of a friend, and started to play left-handed – initially with two hands on his grip – and worked hard to develop a powerful serve. Aged 19, he reached the then-USSR National Championships final and turned pro in 1988, soon becoming a threat on all surfaces. He was coached for several years by Valeri Chklyar.

Volkov made his senior debut at Philadelphia in February 1987, and five months later reached the Wimbledon fourth round — the first Russian player since Alex Metreveli in 1975. It was one of four Last 16 appearances at the All England Club (also 1990, 1991 and 1994). Volkov led eventual champion Michael Stich 5-3, 30/15 in the final set of their 1991 clash. He played in 30 consecutive Grand Slam championships between 1989 Wimbledon and the 1996 US Open.

He ended his playing career in 1997, having attained a career-high No. 14 in the ATP Rankings on 23 August 1993. He finished in the year-end Top 25 over five consecutive seasons (1990-1994), competed at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, and also helped Russia to the 1994 Davis Cup final (l. to Sweden).

In retirement, he joined Safin's team, helping the future World No. 1 to titles at the 2000 US Open and the 2005 Australian Open, before they ended their partnership in 2007.

Volkov won his third and final ATP Tour singles title at the VTB Kremlin Cup in 1994 (d. Chuck Adams). Today, in a ceremony at the ATP 250 tournament in Moscow, all former champions were due to be honoured, including Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Safin, who will also receive International Tennis Hall of Fame rings. They will now remember their fun-loving friend.

Former World No. 1 Kafelnikov paid tribute on Saturday, saying: “He was cheerful! I was lucky to play with him, to defend the colours of the Russian flag on the world stage. We were together in a team of the Davis Cup when we reached the final in 1994. I won my first title in Adelaide [in 1994], beating Sasha in the final. I have the most cherished memories of him.”

“At some point early on, he began to help me with tennis,” said Safin on Saturday. “With his help, I won the US Open and became World No. 1. We were friends, I liked him as a sportsman, as a person. He was cheerful, kind and had a big heart. Very kind and responsive. He helped a lot of people.”

Alexander Vladimirovich Volkov, tennis player and coach, born 3 March 1967, died 19 October 2019.