Alex Kuznetsov will play in the French Open main draw for the first time in his his career.
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Alex Kuznetsov captured the men's Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge, winning a wild card into the 2013 French Open later this month. The 26-year-old earned 115 points in the challenge, capturing the title in Sarasota, Fla., and reaching quarterfinals in Savannah, Ga., and Tallahassee, Fla. He reached the boys' singles final at Roland Garros in 2004, joining Brian Baker as the second consecutive former French Open junior boys' finalist to earn a USTA wild card into the French Open.
Shortly after reaching the French Open boys' final, Kuznetsov's career was nearly derailed when he suffered a severe leg injury in a 2005 car accident. Kuznetsov recovered, however, and came back to play in his first US Open main draw in 2006. In 2007, he won his first Grand Slam match at the Australian Open, reached the round of 16 in doubles at the US Open and posted career-best rankings of No. 158 in singles and No. 78 in doubles. Kuznetsov qualified for the 2012 Australian Open for his first appearance in a Grand Slam main draw since 2007 and faced Rafael Nadal in the first round. He has played in French Open qualifying on four occasions.
Currently ranked No. 171 in the world, the native of Kiev, Ukraine, and current resident of Richboro, Pa., and Tampa, Fla., recently participated in a conference call with media after earning the French Open wild card. Here are highlights from the call:
Q. Alex, could you think back to 2004, when you were a finalist in the boys’ tournament at Roland Garros? Give us an idea at that point where you felt your career was, if you were thinking back then that relatively soon you'd be in the main draw at the French Open and what it means to you now to earn that chance to play in the main draw there.
Alex Kuznetsov: Obviously, back then, it was a great time for me. I was in the finals of the juniors, I was playing some good tennis. Going up against Gaël Monfils, I think he was ranked No. 1 in the world at that time. We were going to be playing on Court 1. I remember I was really excited. Had my parents and grandparents over there with me, some coaches. Yeah, obviously it was a great time for me, but I knew it was a long road ahead of me. I think I had a couple ATP points at the time. I knew after that tournament I was going to be playing a lot of Futures and Challenger events. But, honestly, to think I guess it's been almost 10 years that this will be my first French Open main draw, I would have said I'd liked to have been in a couple before now, to be honest with you.
Q. What does it mean to you to get that chance now?
Alex Kuznetsov: It means a lot. It means all the hard work that I've put in is paying off. I continue to keep working hard. I know this is kind of the first step of many, I hope. I look forward to continue playing some good tennis. I look forward to getting over to Nice [France] next week to start playing some tournaments over there, hopefully get some matches under my belt there. Hopefully I continue playing well leading up to Roland Garros.
Q. Obviously we saw last year someone who had some major injuries, not exactly the same situation with you – the car accident. I'm wondering if Brian Baker offered any inspiration for you in the last few months. Obviously, he was also a French Open junior finalist a long time ago, came back and made a big impact last year.
Alex Kuznetsov: Brian offered a lot of encouragement to me just to see kind of what he's been through throughout his whole career. I had that one major injury with the car accident, but he's a guy who has had numerous major issues with his knees and his hip and his elbow. This is a guy that pretty much stopped playing professional tennis, became a coach in college tennis. To see him come back the way he did, get to the final of Nice last year, go to the French Open and win a round, then play [No. 11 seed Gilles] Simon tight in five sets, that gave me a lot of inspiration to see Brian do that. I'm good friends with Brian. He's come down to Saddlebrook to train in the offseason. To see how hard he works, how much he loves the game, it's a great thing. I wish him more success, and I hope he recovers quickly. Hopefully we can do some good things on the ATP Tour together.
Q. Looking back at your results this year, there wasn't too much of a sign that the big breakthrough was going to come through for the three tournaments, particular in Sarasota. How were you able to turn it around, and what was your mindset going into this whole playoff system?
Alex Kuznetsov: I wasn't thinking about the wild card at all, to be honest with you. I got the e-mail from the USTA saying they were going to be doing this playoff for it with these three tournaments. I didn't think much of it. I think I lost five or six matches in the first round coming into Sarasota. I didn't make the main draw. I had to play qualifying. To be honest with you, I was looking to go to Sarasota, get some confidence back. With every match, I gained a little bit more, started playing some really good tennis mid-week. That continued, even through the three weeks. Even in Savannah, I lost to a good clay player in [Spaniard Ruben Ramirez] Hidalgo. I was unfortunate to have a shoulder injury in Tallahassee. I beat some good players along the way and am feeling really confident with my game right now.
Q. At 26, do you feel like there's still a lot of road ahead of you as a professional tennis player?
Alex Kuznetsov: Definitely, definitely. I feel, honestly, that I'm playing some of the best tennis of my life. I feel strong. I feel fit. I'm really looking forward to the future. I feel like I'm on the right path right now. I feel I'm really focused on what I need to do. I'm looking forward to continuing to work hard. Hopefully I can continue some good success.