EXCLUSIVE: Alexander Bublik Sets The Record Straight On His Commitment To Tennis
In an interview with Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta, the Kazakh tennis star also speaks about his connection with Italy, the current quality of men’s tennis and his Russian roots.
Tennis is a sport with many unique characters on the Tour and Alexander Bublik is without a doubt one of those.
The 25-year-old Kazakh can be described as his country’s version of Nick Kyrgios with his use of the underarm serve and his good sense of humour during matches. Although he has never been involved in as much controversy as Kyrgios has throughout his career.
Bublik achieved a ranking-best of No.30 earlier this season after winning his first Tour title at the Montpellier Open. He has also finished runner-up at five other ATP tournaments between 2019-2022. According to the ATP, he has won 15 indoor matches this year which is more than any other player.
After a series of shock defeats at this week’s UniCredit Firenze Open in Florence, Bublik is the third-highest-ranked player remaining in the draw. On Wednesday he defeated Corentin Moutet 7-5, 6-4, in the second round and afterwards spoke with Ubitennis. Despite the late night ending of his match, Ubaldo Scanagatta – who know Bublik since he was younger, when his manager Corrado Tschabuschnig helped him to get their first interview – waited for him until 2AM to get this wide-ranging interview. Addressing his love for Italy and why he previously said he only played tennis for the money.
UBITENNIS: Congratulations on winning against Moutet. It is the second match in a row that you have won in two sets. How do you like this court and what do you think about your performance?
BUBLIK: The club is great and it is close to the hotel which is enjoyable because I like to play in Italy. Unfortunately, there aren’t many weeks (on the Tour) where you can play in Italy on hardcourts.
Rome is one of my favorite tournaments. I always enjoy playing in Italy and having a hard court event here (in Florence) helps. I will try to stay focused. Enjoy being here, the food and the crowd. It’s a great week for me and if I can keep going it’s great.
UBITENNIS: You were in the same half of the draw as Matteo Berrettini who lost on Wednesday. Could this help you in the tournament?
BUBLIK: I don’t know. I mean, yea Matteo lost and it is a pity for the Italian fans because they support him very much. If Roberto Carballes can beat Matteo, he can beat anybody. That is how tennis is nowadays. He can be 80th in the world, produce his best tennis and beat anybody. So it doesn’t really matter if Matteo is in my draw or not because we have to beat some very good players.
UBITENNIS: You are number 43 in the world now, does it make a difference at all and what are your expectations for the rest of your career? You’re only 25 and many players have got their best ranking when they were 27 or 28. Meanwhile, Nadal and Federer have gotten better with their strokes as they get older.
BUBLIK: I don’t think there is a big difference between starting in the top 10 and up to 50th in the world. You can see guys like Carballes beating Matteo. Of course, being 30th in the world rankings is better because you are higher seeded in ATP 250 events, seeded in Grand Slams and it helps with your draw. But In terms of level, I believe it is pretty much the same level as the top 10. The top 10 guys do play differently a little bit but still, it is not 1999 anymore when there were like three players and nobody else. Everybody can play tennis and every match is tough regardless of who you play.
UBITENNIS: You seem to have a good relationship with Italy. You have a manager, Corrado Tschabuschnig, who is Italian and a former Italian sponsor, why do you have this relationship with Italy? Have you seen Florence at all?
BUBLIK: Unfortunately I have had no time (to see Florence). I have an emotional connection with Italy. I enjoy the food, it is my favorite cuisine because it is the only one I can cook. It is very simple.
UBITENNIS: What do you cook?
BUBLIK: I can cook pretty much any spaghetti.
I do have an emotional connection to Italy, as I have previously said Rome is one of my favorite tournaments even though it is on clay. Every time I feel that I am at home and I like the people, pretty much everything. It fits me and my family well. My wife and Kid are not here but my Wife always enjoys Rome every time we go there.
Now playing here in Florence on my best surface is a pleasure for me.
UBITENNIS: You were born in Gatchina, Russia. It is good for you that six years ago you started to play for Kazakhstan with everything going on with the Russian War in Ukraine?
BUBLIK: I represent the country that I am playing for. Yes, I was born in Russia and have lived there for most of my life. I moved to Kazakhstan in 2016 and there is a big emotional connection there. What they did for me is incredible and how they helped me when I was in need. Of course, I do feel Russian with my whole family being from Russia. But being a player who represents Kazakhstan in the world arenas is a pleasure for me and I feel very proud.
UBITENNIS: You once made a declaration that you played tennis not because you liked it but because you wanted to make money. I am not sure if this was a joke or perhaps badly reported in the media. So do you love tennis? I saw you in the gym until 1:30 am after one match.
BUBLIK: The media has been doing it wrong many times. With my speeches, sometimes they take my words out (of context) and use them. It was not a joke that I said I play tennis for money because at that specific moment I was not enjoying what I was doing. But as time went by and it has been three years since that interview, things have changed a lot and I do enjoy playing tennis now because I realized that this is what I wanted to do when I was a kid. When I was growing up I was standing in front of the mirror wearing Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer clothes dreaming of playing in (tennis) arenas.
When this thing (media reports on Bublik’s comment) about playing for money got too big, I was like this is not entirely true because I was dreaming of standing here in front of thousands of people. I definitely enjoy and love playing tennis.
Being a professional, there are still people within the circuit who are like do you have a coach? Do you have a fitness trainer? And they are surprised. It happens to me but slowly I can become as professional as some of the greats of the game.
(EXCLUSIVE) Clara Tauson: The Other Danish Rising Star Competing At The French Open
When it comes to Denmark and tennis in 2023, the name of Holger Rune comes to the mind of many given his rapid rise in the sport which includes nine wins over top 10 players within a six-and-a-half month period.
However, the Nordic country also has a promising player on the women’s Tour who has already experienced her fair share of ups and downs. 20-year-old Clara Tauson has been constantly compared to Caroline Wozniacki whilst growing up given her impressive junior career. In 2019 she claimed the Australian Open girls title at the age of 16 which elevated her to the top of the ITF junior rankings. During that same year, she rose by over 130 places in the WTA standings to inside the top 300.
Transitioning to the women’s Tour from junior competition is always a challenge but Tauson impressed early on. A breakout 2021 season saw her claim two WTA titles in Lyon and Luxembourg. She also won a WTA 125K event in Chicago. Then last year she reached a ranking high of No.33 before injury derailed her rise in the sport.
The person in charge of trying to get Tauson back to the top of her game is Carlos Martinez who joined her team just weeks before the start of the French Open. Martinez is a veteran of tennis coaching and previously worked with Daria Kasatkina. He has also guided Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Fabio Fognini and Feliciano Lopez in the past.
“She called me two or three months ago when I stopped working with Dasha (Daria Kasatkina). We have been in contact for a long time because we talked a few years ago as well,” Martinez told Ubitennis about his latest coaching role.
“She is a girl who has very good potential, really nice and kind. She also wanted to come to my academy. We started a one-week trial and then very fast we started to form a very good connection. In the beginning, we started without any conditions. Then we both felt good (about the collaboration) and started working (together).”
Martinez’s academy, CMC Competition, is located 20 km outside of Barcelona in CT Mollet. The facility has six clay courts, a fully equipped gym and even an outdoor swimming pool. Making it an appealing place to train at this time of the year for players such as Tauson who impressed her new coach at a young age.
“I first saw her when she was 16 and playing at a Fed Cup tie in Poland,” he remembers. “At that time I liked how she was doing. She won the Australian Open (girls) title and was No.1 in the juniors.’
“When I saw her practice at my academy I was not surprised (by her game) because I know she is a really good player. The only thing is that she has to be healthy and work on some aspects. I believe she has a very good future.”
Whilst there is a lot of optimism for the future, it depends a lot on how the Dane’s body holds up. A back injury ruled her out of last year’s French Open and hampered her preparation for Wimbledon where she retired from her opening match. The setbacks continued into this season with a foot injury forcing her out of the Australian Open.
It is always a concern when a player is blighted by injuries at a young age but she isn’t the only person to have experienced this. Another notable case is Emma Raducanu who is currently sidelined from the sport after undergoing three ‘minor’ procedures on both of her hands and ankle.
“I think because she is tall and it was at that time when she was growing, she was affected by a few injuries. We need to prepare her body to be healthy and be one hundred per cent confident that she can compete,” Martinez explains.
“We are not rushing in any aspect such as talking about her ranking because for me the most important thing is to recover her level and then make it better than before. The focus is to build her game, make her understand how to play tennis and believe that she can go back towards the top of the rankings.”
The work between Martinez and Tauson appears to be paying off. As a result of her drop in the rankings, the Dane competed in the qualifying rounds of the French Open. In her opening two matches, she breezed her way past Katie Swan (No.161) and Petra Marcinko (No.257). Then in the final round, she edged out Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-2, after almost three hours of play.
Roland Garros was where Tauson made her Grand Slam debut back in 2020. On that occasion, she also had to come through qualifying before stunning 21st seed Jennifer Brady in the first round.
“We are happy that she has qualified here at Roland Garros. My speech to her every day is that we have one more way to improve. There is no pressure at all because she is out of the top 100. This is just the beginning and little by little I am seeing nice things that we are doing in practice she is using on the court for matches.”Carlos Martinez
The trio of victories is undoubtedly a massive boost but back home her achievements have been overshadowed by her friend and former doubles partner Rune. Together they won the Danish Under-12s mixed doubles tournament. They will reunite later this year to play in the Hopman Cup which is taking place after Wimbledon.
“The fact Rune is doing so well is a good motivation for her,” Martinez believes. “They are different players and personalities but they can both become very, very good. It’s good for her to have a friend on the Tour who she can share experiences with.”
“She’s the kind of player who can do everything when it comes to attack. She has a huge forehand, one of the best that I have ever seen. She serves good and has a good backhand.” He added.
Regardless of how Tauson performs in her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in Paris, her new coach admits she needs to work on improving her defensive game. Should this and a few other adjustments be made, the sky’s the limit in Matinez’s eyes.
“Her level for sure one day can be top 20. She is very young and has very good weapons. I’m sure she can be very good. As for when I have no idea because I am not magic. I hope I’m going to be with her for a very long time and see how successful she will become.” He concluded.
Tauson will play her first round match on Sunday.
EXCLUSIVE: Monte Carlo Tournament Director David Massey On Attendance Figures And The Rise Of Italian Tennis
This year’s Monte Carlo Masters marked the start of a new era for the tournament.
Overseeing the running of the event for the first time was David Massey who is no stranger to working in the world of men’s tennis. Massey, who has been a resident of Monte Carlo since 2001, has previously served as the ATP’s vice president for Europe and has worked for the organisation in some capacity for 20 years. He also speaks fluently in English, Spanish and French.
Ubitennis spoke with Massey on the final day of this year’s tournament which concluded with Andrey Rublev winning his first Masters 1000 title by outlasting Holger Rune in three sets. He reflects on his first year in charge of one of the most prestigious clay court events outside of the French Open, provides some insights into this year’s attendance figures and speaks highly about the rise of Italian tennis.
SCANAGATTA: I would like to know what has brought you a better experience and what have you learned this year as tournament director? Also, what did you enjoy the most about this year’s tournament?
MASSEY: May I start by thanking Zeljko Franulovic (former tournament director) because it is always easier to build on an existing event. He ran it extremely well for so many years. I also know him, we worked together on the ATP Tour prior to 2004. It was a great privilege for me to take over from him.
In terms of what I have learnt this year, I think my 20 years of experience on the ATP Tour has served me well. Plus I also had one year (2022) where I was the deputy Tour director so I felt I came here (to Monte Carlo) prepared. I think I will always learn every single year. There are always things to improve but we are very satisfied with how we have built up the site this year. We were prepared to receive every sector, whether it would be the media, players, fans etc. We were really satisfied with the results there. Unlucky with the weather a couple of times but overall I am really satisfied with the week.
SCANAGATTA: Can you give us some numbers regarding spectators and the success of this tournament? As an Italian, I would have liked to see Jannik Sinner in the final but still, there was a great final with two great top 10 players.
MASSEY: We had 140,000 spectators which is a number that we have surpassed for the first time in the tournament’s history. That was a result of the real eagerness of our fans to come to sporting events. It has been a great effort from our ticketing department to sell those tickets and market the event.
We have a capacity on the site which can hold 15,644 people at one stage. It is very important for us to keep this in mind. So we are at capacity basically and it is hard to imagine that number increasing in the future but we want to maintain it at least. That is our goal.
We always have Easter Monday during the tournament which helps us and makes a big difference because people can enjoy that Monday of the tournament which is usually a work day.
In terms of the Italian market. We are just 11km away from the Italian border, so it is also like having a tournament which is played in Italy. We had so many Italian fans here and the depth of Italian players these days is exceptional. We saw fine tennis from all of the players. I think Matteo Berrettini was unlucky to have injured himself because he was really in good form before that. We saw how far Sonego went, Musetti’s upset against Djokovic and Jannik Sinner’s extremely good form.
Sinner is one of the few players who have got to the semi-finals of Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo in the same year. I think only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are the only other players to have done this as well. So Sinner is in great form and I hope to see him go further in the future.
SCANAGATTA: Do you have any idea about the percentage of foreign visitors to Monte Carlo? We saw a match between an Italian and French player on Court 2 and there were more Italian supporters.
MASSEY: Roughly speaking, about 40% of ticket holders are Italian, around 50% are French and then 10% are international.
EXCLUSIVE: The Ukrainian Tennis Federation On War, Russian Players And The Olympics
Times are hard for Evgeniy Zukin but he says it is nothing compared to what is happening in his home country of Ukraine.
I spoke with Zukin via a video call from London where he is currently residing amid the Russian invasion of his homeland which began almost 14 months ago on February 24th 2022. Despite the challenging circumstances, he continues his role as the Executive Director of the Ukranian Tennis Federation (UTF). Perhaps the most notable thing about our conversation was how composed he remained throughout despite the topics discussed. You never quite know how a person from Ukraine might react when they are asked if they have any sympathy for those from Russia given the circumstances.
Throughout our 20-minute call, Zukin expressed both disappointment and understanding regarding the decision of The All England Club to permit Russian and Belarussian players to participate in Wimbledon this year.
“Nobody supported Wimbledon and the LTA in their decision to not allow them to play (in 2022). All of the tennis world left them alone. Unfortunately, they couldn’t fight on their own against the professional Tours and all the rest. It’s unfortunate but at the same time, we understand this decision.” Zukin told Ubitennis.
It is a tough time for tennis in Ukraine. Some tournaments have been given the green light to take place under special regulations which require protocols to be in place in case an air raid siren goes off. Still, they are determined to maintain their position on the tennis map with ambitions of hosting more tournaments over the coming months depending on the war.
Financially it has been tough. The only major tennis governing body to have given a fund to the UTF is the International Tennis Federation (ITF) – $100,000 in 2022 and 2023. They have also received donations from national federations with the most recent of those coming from Italy.
“We have lost all our income from sponsorships, commercial activities, licences and from players’ tournament fees etc. All of this is no longer on our balance sheet,” Zukin said.
Another challenge has emerged from the UTF’s own government. Recently the Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers, Oleh Nemchinov, announced that his athletes would not be allowed to participate in Olympic qualifying events if Russians are taking part. A total of 262 Ukrainian athletes have been killed and 363 sports facilities destroyed since the start of the war, according to the country’s sports minister Vadym Huttsait (as of April 2nd 2023).
However, enforcing such a rule in tennis would be extremely hard, as was pointed out in an open letter by the UTF. The Olympic qualification criteria set out by the ITF states players must compete in a set number of Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup ties unless they have an exemption. Although the vast majority of those to qualify will be based on their ranking right after the 2024 French Open. So in essence every tournament which awards ranking points is a qualifying event for players. At the Tokyo Olympics, Elina Svitolina became the first Ukrainian tennis player to win a medal of any kind after clinching bronze in the women’s singles tournament.
“Everybody knows that the Russian and Belarussian political regimes are using their players as a tool in their propaganda,” it is claimed by the UTF official.
In a wide-ranging interview, Ubitennis also spoke with Zukin about the ongoing criticism of the WTA’s handling of Ukranian players, Iga Swiatek’s vocal support for his country and potentially boycotting the Olympics.
UBITENNIS: How has the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF) been coping with the ongoing war in your country?
ZUKIN: It is not easy. I am away from my home country and my home town of Kyiv. I’m working mostly from London but I do a lot of travelling to explain our (the Federation’s) position about what is going on in the tennis world with this war.
Of course, this is not easy but it is nothing compared to what our soldiers on the battlefields are feeling.
UBITENNIS: How have the Federation been able to look after their players given the circumstances? What support systems are in place?
ZUKIN: We started some national tournaments in Ukraine last December under the special regulations that have been provided by the government for organizing sporting events. There are shelters and special protocols in place in case of air raid sirens and threats. We are doing one or two national events a month and in most of the clubs the normal tennis process (is continuing).
We are talking about Kyiv and western Ukraine. Not the regions which are close to the battlefields. In the regions that are not so much affected, tennis players have the opportunity to practice, and play some club and national events. This is how it is being organised inside the country at the moment. We hope that during the summer period, we will find more suitable places to host national events.
UBITENNIS: A lot has been said by your players regarding the WTA and their current management of the ongoing war. What is your opinion about how the WTA is helping Ukranian players and should they do more?
ZUKIN: Of course, we think that the ATP and WTA could have done more to support Ukrainian players. I know our female players are not happy with the treatment the WTA is giving them. From our side, we are not happy that professional tours – both the WTA and ATP – have a firm stance on accepting Russians (on their Tour) under a neutral flag.
The thing is that this is a formality. Everybody knows that the Russian and Belarussian political regimes are using their players as a tool in their propaganda. We think this is not right whilst the war is ongoing.
UBITENNIS: So how often do you communicate with the WTA or ATP?
ZUKIN: We (the UTF) are members of the International Tennis Federation. We don’t have any links to the ATP or WTA. I’ve had one or two conversations with them but it is the players who are the members there. So it is mostly their prerogative to speak to the Tours.
UBITENNIS: One big event coming up in the UK is Wimbledon which decided this year to lift its ban on Russian and Belarussian players participating. What is your reaction to this decision?
ZUKIN: I’m sorry that the decision taken last year wasn’t prolonged this year. But we also understand that nobody supported Wimbledon and the LTA in their decision to not allow them to play. All of the tennis world left them alone. Unfortunately, they couldn’t fight on their own against the professional Tours and all the rest. It’s unfortunate but at the same time, we understand this decision.
UBITENNIS: You said nobody supports Wimbledon and the LTA within the tennis world regarding their 2022 ban. How did this make you as a Ukranian feel?
ZUKIN: We felt sorry but this is much bigger than this whole game. The main goal is to stop the war and stop the killing of people every day. We think, as every Ukranian does, that every tool needs to be used to stop the war.
UBITENNIS: One player who has spoken out about the situation is WTA world No.1 Iga Swiatek. Would you like to see more players follow her example?
ZUKIN: Of course, if there would be an agreement within the players’ council or their environment that players from Russia should be stopped from playing during the war that would help a lot. But unfortunately, people like Swiatek or Petra Kvitova are in the minority and not the majority. It is really bad that nobody cares enough about what is going on.
They (Swiatek and Kvitova) come from countries that are really close to Ukraine and they feel how it is affecting them because of the refugees and the threat from Russia if Ukraine falls. They know how it felt to live during the Soviet Union era and they have a much better feel about what is going on. We are thankful that they provided this position to the public that the war shouldn’t be normalised.
UBITENNIS: Players from Russia and Belarus argue that they shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their governments. Do you in any way have any sympathy towards the situation that they are currently in?
ZUKIN: I have sympathy towards players such as Daria Kasatkina who has openly said that she is against the war. Everybody who is trying to somehow not get involved or stay silent (about the war)… I understand that there are threats for them but these threats are nothing in comparison to what is going on in Ukraine.
UBITENNIS: Recently your federation wrote an open letter in response to calls from some cabinet ministers for Ukrainian athletes not to compete against Russian athletes in tournaments. In the world of tennis, this would be almost impossible. Have you received a response to this letter?
ZUKIN: Obviously, everybody in Ukraine is emotional and driven by hurt. Everybody has close ones and loved ones who have been killed in the war. We know this decision has been announced publically but we haven’t received any documents regarding the path to providing this. We are waiting for the next steps and are in constant talks with our government, as well as the National Olympic Committee. We have publically raised our concerns that such a move would be very bad for the sport. We can’t stop players from playing in tournaments. We need to continue competing and hopefully, we can come to a wise solution.
UBITENNIS: There have been talks about potentially boycotting the Olympics if Russia is allowed to take part, even under a neutral status. Would you support such a move?
ZUKIN: Boycotting the Olympics is something that has been widely discussed. The thing is that for tennis it is much easier to boycott the Olympics as it is one tournament. We think that in case the war isn’t going to stop, we see no chance for them to participate. The Olympics were made to stop the wars and this is another tool (boycotting) that must be used to stop the war and get Russian troops back to their territory. We are going to do everything we can for them not to participate in the Olympics in case the war goes on.
UBITENNIS: So looking ahead to the future, what is your federation’s plan for the next 6-12 months?
ZUKIN: We have the Billie Jean King Cup tie against the Czech Republic coming up which is being organised on neutral ground in Turkey. Then we are going to get ready for all the age groups’ summer cups. We are continuing to find new hosts for the national events. We are managing players individually, if they need advice or support in their life abroad as refugees. I can assure you I wake up with tennis in my head and I go to sleep with the same. A lot of work is going on but unfortunately, there are not as many people in our office as before the war. We are doing everything we can to help players, coaches and refugees to continue being in tennis.
UBITENNIS: Finally, how is the UTF managing to function financially? Are you receiving funding from elsewhere?
ZUKIN: Financial problems are something we are experiencing. We have lost all our income from sponsorships, commercial activities, licences and from players’ tournament fees etc. All of this is no longer on our balance sheet.
We have some reserves. We have been making the most of the money earned from the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup. The ITF is the only tennis organisation that has established a fund for us. One hundred thousand dollars were spent last year through this fund which was mostly on Ukrainian players’ travels and junior teams. This year this fund awarded us another $100,000.
Other donations have come from Nordic countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland at around $20,000 which haven’t been used yet.
Now we have incredible news that the Italian tennis federation has donated $170,000 from their profit from the Italian Masters.
So far nothing from these donations has gone to administration costs. It has all been given to players, teams and events. Last year we held four ITF junior tournaments in Poland and it is something we want to do to show that our Federation still exists in the tennis world and that the Ukrainian flag is flying high.
EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the latest report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 8,451 civilians have been killed and another 14,156 injured since the start of the war. This doesn’t include military deaths which one BBC report says could be in the region of over 60,000 based on information from ‘most US and European officials’, although this has not been verified.
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