Friday, August 25, 2017

Tursunov Q&A Part I: Big decision looms

Dmitry Tursunov, a 34-year-old Russian with strong Northern
California ties, reached No. 20 in the world in 2006. His career
has been marred by injuries. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   The most accomplished singles player — by far — in the recent $100,000 Nordic Naturals Challenger in Aptos, Calif., was eliminated from the tournament by the first day of the main draw. Dmitry Tursunov, 34, lost in the second round of singles qualifying after receiving a walkover — ironic considering Tursunov's long history of injuries — and in the first round of main-draw doubles with fellow Russian Konstanin Kravchuk.
   But if you asked the other players in Aptos whether they'd take the powerful Tursunov's career, almost all would jump at the offer:
    —High of No. 20 in the world in singles and No. 36 in doubles.
    —Fourth round of singles at Wimbledon twice.
    —Doubles semifinalist at the French Open.
    —Seven singles and seven doubles titles on the ATP World Tour.
    —Davis Cup championship.
    —Two-time Olympian.
    —Career earnings of $5,867,025.
   Tursunov returned to competition early last month at Wimbledon after missing almost one year with injuries. Now ranked No. 642 in singles, he is pondering retirement.
   Tursunov speaks English like — or better than — an American, which he practically is. He moved alone from his native Moscow to Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area at age 12 to train, living with his coach and legal guardian, Vitaly Gorin. Tursunov learned English by watching cartoons on TV.
   When Gorin bought the Granite Bay Tennis Club in the Sacramento region in 2000 and converted it into a tennis academy, Tursunov followed him there. Tursunov still owns a townhouse in nearby Folsom but spends most of his time in Moscow, where he owns a flat, when he's not on the tour. If he continues playing, he might train in Spain because of the abundance of courts, sunshine and fellow pros.
   Ideally built at 6-foot-1 (1.85) and 180 pounds (82 kilograms), Tursunov looks like a Southern Californian with his curly blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, the other Russians on the tour called him "Surfer Dude" because of his California residence. Never mind that Sacramento is 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean.
   Tursunov is single with no children. Other than that, he defies categorization. He is part Russian, part American, part philosopher and part comedian. Tursunov generally is serious in interviews, but when he lets his guard down, he flashes the irreverent sense of humor that made him an Internet sensation as the ATP's guest blogger during his career year of 2006.
   Following a two-hour practice at the Seascape Sports Club, the site of the Nordic Naturals Challenger, Tursunov answered questions for 20 minutes in the parking lot about his latest comeback. After showering, he walked across the street for a dinner of salmon, quinoa and beets (welcome to the life of a professional tennis player) at a deli. There, the accommodating Tursunov, the runner-up in the 2003 Aptos Challenger, discussed tennis and non-tennis issues for another two hours.
   Who were you hitting with today?
   Frank Moser (a 40-year-old German who reached the 2012 Aptos doubles final with Chris Guccione of Australia). It's like two old guys trying to stay in shape. We sit down (during breaks) and talk about injuries. "I had a hip replacement (joke)." "Awesome!" "I want to get one myself ... buy one, get one free."
   Do you have a coach?
   No. What's a coach going to tell me? Run faster? Also, they want a commitment, and they don't know how long I'm going to play.
   What kept you off the tour for the last five months of 2016 and from the Australian Open to Wimbledon this year?
   After Toronto last year, I had a hip problem and the same thing this year. After Toronto, I had an injection in the left hip, but both hips are pretty messed up. It seemed like it helped a little bit, but I wasn't ready for anything. Then I did a preseason in Florida, but my (right) calf kept getting injured, so I almost didn't practice. I was just doing fitness.
   When I got to Australia a few days before the tournament, I had a physio look at it. He said a lot of the older Australian football players had the same problem (with nerves in the back that go down to the leg). I guess the discs get a little bit worn out, so there's a little bit of compression. He worked on a couple spots on the leg, and the calf (problem) went away. I think I had five days of serious tennis practice before the tournament. I was in OK shape (in a first-round loss to 38-year-old Radek Stepanek), but I wasn't able to play a lot throughout the preseason. When you're not playing a lot, everything starts to pile up and hurt, so the hip started acting up again.
   I was training in Sacramento for the clay season, and I think about two or three days into sliding on clay, my hip started hurting so bad that I couldn't really walk, so I couldn't play the French Open or clay season. When it calmed down, I started getting ready for grass, but I was hitting on hardcourts because they don't have grass anywhere other than London. Then I played Wimbledon (losing in the opening round to 28th-seeded Fabio Fognini).
   Since then, I've been more or less OK, comparatively speaking. ... I'm asking every day if I'm ready to play a full season or not. I'll try to play as many tournaments as I can and after the U.S. Open figure out if I want to continue or stop. It's going to depend a lot on how I feel physically. I can even lose the matches, but if I feel like I can play another one the next day, then that's a good indication that I can continue. If you win a match and can't walk the next day, it doesn't really matter how you're playing in that one match. You still need to win tournaments in order to go up in the rankings.
   So you've had back, hip and calf problems?
   Actually, I didn't have the back. In 2014, I had plantar fasciitis (in the right foot). That sort of started it. I went to a couple of rehab places, and nothing was working. In January 2015, I started practicing again and finally didn't have the foot problem. Then I fell down (during a pro-am in Moscow) and partially tore my MCL. That's the one that keeps your knee from going inward. That took me out for another month and a half.
   After that, I started practicing again and had that calf problem. I'd go running, and 15 minutes into my jog, it would feel like a muscle tear to where you couldn't walk. Two or three days later, it goes away. So I couldn't figure out what that was, but I had it three or four times. We (Tursunov and fellow Moscow native Andrey Rublev, then 18) won doubles in Moscow in 2015 in my first tournament back. Then I played another tournament in Italy, indoors. In 2016, I played (Stan) Wawrinka in the first round of the Australian Open and had a groin problem, so I had to pull out of that match.
   It's been more leg-oriented. The back hasn't really bothered me because it hasn't gotten that far. The legs have been breaking down first.
   But you did break two vertebrae while playing tennis in 2002 and underwent three operations — for bone spurs in your left ankle, a bone chip in that ankle, and nerve inflammation and a cyst in your left foot — in one year (2009-10). How frustrating have all the injuries been?
   (Laughs) It's obviously frustrating, but with a couple of them, I don't think I really had any choice. Some have been chronic, and I could have trained differently or done more recovery stuff. I could blame myself, even though it's not very helpful at this point. With the MCL and calf, I'm sure there's some fitness trainer or physio who sits there and says, "Oh, I told you so." But 30 people are telling you different things, and you have to figure out who's telling you the right thing. In the end, I don't really have a magic ball where we can verify, OK, this is the right way to do it. You learn from your mistakes or try every single door and see which one opens.
   What do you consider the biggest highlight and disappointment of your career?
   The highlight is probably (winning) the Davis Cup (in 2006) — just everyone talks about it. That whole year was a good year for me. The (Davis Cup match) most people remember was against (International Tennis Hall of Famer Andy) Roddick (in which Tursunov prevailed 17-15 in the fifth set in the fourth rubber on indoor clay in Moscow to clinch Russia's 3-2 semifinal victory over the United States). But I also had a very good match against (Richard) Gasquet the round before that (in which Tursunov triumphed 7-5 in the fifth set in the fourth rubber on indoor carpet in front of a hostile crowd in Pau, France, to clinch Russia's 4-1 win) and played very good doubles in the final against Argentina (in which Tursunov and Hall of Famer Marat Safin overwhelmed Augustin Calleri and David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in Russia's 3-2 victory on indoor carpet in Moscow; Safin and Nikolay Davydenko played singles for Russia).
   Disappointment ... I lost to (countryman Mikhail) Youzhny in the semifinals in St. Petersburg in a tiebreak (in 2010). I should have won that match, so that was a pretty painful loss. Basically, all I had to do was put the ball in the middle of the court because he was off the court completely, and I got so tight that I couldn't put the ball in the court. There's a lot of matches I could have won and I lost.
   The match against Roddick easily could have been a big disappointment because I was leading two sets to love and got myself into the fifth set, down a break. I played well to get out of it, then it turned into this big dramatic match. If I (had) won in three sets, which I had a very good chance of doing because I didn't seem to have any big problems in the first two sets, we wouldn't have had anything to talk about now (laughs).
   I always struggle with these things — favorite movie, favorite moment. It's kind of hard to pinpoint this one match or moment when I had this euphoria and then this one match where I wanted to jump off a bridge. I don't think it's quite black and white for me like that.
   How do you feel about Roddick (last month) and Michael Chang (2008) being inducted in the Hall of Fame with one Grand Slam title each?
   Honestly (laughs), I don't care a whole lot.
   I don't remember Michael Chang's career that well because he was playing way before me. He obviously did better than me, so he deserves that spot more than I do. That's all I can say.
   Andy was a great player. He lost a couple of (Grand Slam) finals to Roger. If it wasn't for Roger, he could have done a little bit better, so maybe he would have had more Slams.
   How do they (decide who gets in the Hall of Fame)? We don't know (laughs). Someone wakes up and believes that Andy deserves a spot, and someone wakes up and says, "No, he doesn't deserve a spot." No one asked my opinion. I'm sure there's some sort of criteria. At least that's what I'm hoping (laughs).
   Do you know what you want to do after you stop playing?
   I've been thinking about it for the last three or four years, given my results. I guess I have a few options, so that's a good thing. I can either stay in tennis or try to pursue something else.
   Right now, I have a few (tennis) consulting offers, but people are not sure if I'm (retiring). It wouldn't necessarily be coaching one particular person but overseeing some juniors in a few different countries that are looking to develop their tennis program. Someone like Ivan Lendl is going to be extremely expensive, so they want to get a good coach without spending too much money.
   Which countries have made offers to you?
   I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say, so I'd rather not. There are a couple in Asia, and one in Eastern Europe. The Russian federation is always like, "You can come work with us," but there's nothing concrete.
   Then, of course, if I looked around, I could probably find some decent players who are looking (for a coach). Whether it happens now or in two or three years, I think I'll still have that opportunity, so I'm not extremely worried. A couple years ago, I was a lot more worried about what am I going to do. Now I sort of let go of the reins a little bit, and I'm not worried about something I can't control. Hopefully I'm not going to starve (laughs).
   Next: Tursunov discusses the Big Four, whether champions are born or made, John McEnroe's provocative comment about Serena Williams, the Margaret Court controversy, equal prize money for men and women, and proposals to speed up matches.

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