Home Hope Kukushkin Seeks His 'Old Version' In Astana
Mikhail Kukushkin admits it has been a tough year for him on court but, as he prepares to compete at next week's Astana Open, the home favourite is excited to be playing on the same courts that played such a vital role in him cracking the Top 40 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings just three years ago.
The 34-year-old isn’t intent on joining the recent list of tennis retirees anytime soon. The Kazakh is keen for his newborn son — a huge bright spot off court — to watch him compete up close in the future.
Saturday’s draw at the loaded Astana Open in Kazakhstan revealed that the Astana resident would face third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas at the National Tennis Center. Grand Slam winners Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are among two of his fellow wild cards.
“I had to wait until Friday evening to receive a wildcard because obviously there were so many requests from famous players to receive one,” a relaxed Kukushkin, winless in four matches against the Greek, said prior to the draw. “Lucky in the end I was able to get one. There was a chance I would play qualifying, which was still fine for me, but main draw is better.”
Main-draw victories at the highest level have proven difficult for the power-baseliner this season. The lone one came at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March after he made it through qualifying at the ATP Masters 1000 event. He then took time off when his son, Teikhon, was born in May, and has also dealt with shoulder and hip injuries.
Kukushkin dropped outside the Top 200 in July, having been inside the Top 100 for an eight-year spell between the end of 2013 and early 2021, with the exception of about three months. The goal for the rest of 2022 is to “finish well”, before he looks forward to pre-season training.
“I’m still motivated to find my old version,” said Kukushkin, an ATP title winner in St. Petersburg in 2010 who has also reached the second week at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. “I don’t want to finish tennis being 500th in the world. I still believe I can play at a good level, so I want to come back to that. I’m going to work hard on this. Let’s see how long it takes.
“One, two, three years I can play, I don’t know. I’m motivated and also want my son to see his daddy playing on the big stage.”
Kazakhstan has grown in prominence on tennis’ world stage, something Kukushkin noted. Elena Rybakina, the current World No. 25 on the WTA Tour, won Wimbledon in July. Kukushkin relocated to Kazakhstan in 2008, and has represented his nation 50 times across 14 years in the Davis Cup, winning 29 of those encounters.
Kazakhstan first hosted an ATP event in 2020 in Astana — Kukushkin overturned a set and break deficit to defeat Benoit Paire and make the quarterfinals — and this year upgraded from a 250 to 500.
“In 2008 when I moved [here], nobody knew about Kazakhstan, nobody knew about tennis in Kazakhstan, and slowly the federation made a big step forward,” said Kukushkin. “We played good in Davis Cup, so the people slowly started to hear the name of Kazakhstan and that there are good players in Kazakhstan.
“Slowly we were all improving the situation here. It’s the third year of the tournament but all the players, all the ATP staff, all the coaches, all the fans know the tournament here is great. The facilities are great and organized.”