Tallahassee Challenger tennis

Alex Kuznetsov Q&A: USTA Roland Garros Wild Card Hopeful on His Start and Goals in Tennis

May 1, 2013 — The last three weeks have been a game-changer for 26-year-old Alex Kuznetsov as he has shot up the rankings one hundred spots to world No. 176, and is also in the lead for the USTA Roland Garros wild card as part of the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.

Last month, the Ukraine-born and Pennsylvania-raised Kuznetsov dropped down to 271 in the rankings before having a breakthrough run at the Sarasota Challenger. He came through the qualification rounds to grab the title, en route defeating players all ranked better than him. He then went onto reach the quarterfinals of the Savannah Challenger the following week, and is currently in the second round of the Tallahassee Challenger after defeating young American hopeful Jack Sock in three sets on Tuesday.

With a win last year over current top 20 player Sam Querrey, Kuznetsov has had a taste of the top players and is ready to eclipse his career-high singles ranking of 158. Get to know the laid-back Kuznetsov as he talks about his start in tennis, his most memorable moment on court, and the player he would most want to play against in history.

What is your most memorable tennis moment?

I would say the Australian Open last year. I got through qualifications and drew Rafael Nadal in the first round – which was exciting but also nerve-wrecking. I had seen him play numerous times on TV, and he has won countless Grand Slams. I was really nervous going out there but it was a great experience for me, and I learned a lot from it.

A lot of my family actually got to see that match back home, and my girlfriend recorded the match — it’s still on my DVR back home. (Laughs) So sometimes when I’m bored, I’ll sit back and watch that a bit. I have maybe (seen it) a handful of times. After the first set, it gets a little frustrating to watch. (Nadal won 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.)

How did you first start playing tennis, and what is your earliest tennis memory?

My earliest memory is of my dad getting me out on the tennis courts in our neighborhood around age 6. A good friend of mine played tennis, and he was going to the local club and getting lessons. My dad said “Why don’t you go and try it?” At first, I didn’t really like it to be honest with you! I was more into team sports like basketball and soccer. But dad saw that I had talent for the game and pushed me to continue getting lessons and play in more tournaments. I remember traveling all over the state of Pennsylvania with him to junior events.

How would you describe your personality?

I have a pretty laid back personality. I like playing golf, that’s one of my favorite things to do. I have two dogs at home, a pug named “Gnarly” – my girlfriend’s dog – and we just got another one year ago, a terrier mix named “Poppins”. My ideal weekend would be playing golf and then spending time with them and going on walks, taking it easy … Nothing too crazy.

What are two things on Tour that you couldn’t live without?

My iPad, I can’t live without that. And, I guess, my iPhone to call friends, family, and my girlfriend.

Do you have a favorite app?

I’m not too into the games, but if I’m bored on a long plane ride, I have these racing and putt games I might play. But I love watching TV shows, so that’s something that I enjoy on my iPad.

What is your favorite show at the moment?

Oh, I’ve watched so many! I just finished watching “Shameless,” which is kind of a crazy show. But my favorite is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia ”… I have all the seasons.

If you were in a Rock ‘n Roll band, what would your role be?

I would like to be the drummer and rock out in back, not out in front. (Laughs)

You had a titanium rod inserted into your leg after breaking it during a car accident in 2005. Is the rod still there and do you ever feel it while playing?

I still have the titanium rod and screw around my (right) knee. It doesn’t bother me at all; I don’t feel it. I feel that my right leg is even stronger than my left one now because I do a lot of work in the gym.

Do you have any trouble going through security at the airports?

I get asked that a lot. Only if they select me for the screening, the (metal-detecting) wand goes off. I don’t carry a (documentation) card, I just say I broke my leg and have a titanium rod in it. They just let me through. They don’t give me too much trouble.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Marat Safin. He was my favorite player growing up. He was kind of crazy out on court, but people seemed to really enjoy his personality. I’ve always looked up to him in the way he played the game and how well he struck the ball. Even for his big size, he moved really well. He just had so much talent and I really liked watching him.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?

I would love to be a golfer. Seeing how well those guys do and the lifestyle that they have isn’t too bad. I think I would still love to be involved in sports somehow, maybe even some coaching.

Do you remember your first Tour win and the feelings behind it?
(Editor’s Note: The player in reference, former world No. 60 and current University of Florida Assistant Coach Amer Delic, had already been playing on Tour while in college, and had just won the NCAA singles title before officially turning pro and making his debut against a youner Kuznetsov in 2003.)

That’s a good story actually. I beat a good friend of mine who just recently stopped playing, Amer Delic. We were in Lubbock, Texas and he had just turned pro as well. He was doing really well and this was (supposed to be) his first prize money check after his great summer results (as an amateur). I was just some 16-year-old kid and I happened to beat him, and that was my first ATP ranking point. It was a good moment for me. But I’ll always take the opportunity to remind him that my first point was against him. (Laughs)

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?

I am not really looking for a rankings goal; it’s really mainly for me to continue improving. I’ve done ranking goals for myself before. But I feel the reason I’ve been doing well these last couple of weeks is because I’ve been really focused on my game and how I’m playing, and not necessarily the rankings. That takes care of itself if you’re playing well, I feel. I just want to keep improving, keep working hard off the court, and keep getting stronger and fitter.

To follow Alex around the Tour, make sure to check out his Twitter, @alexKUZnetsov87!

(Special thanks to Tallahassee Challenger media manager @NickMcCarvel who made this interview possible.)