With Lendl Watching, Kukushkin Takes Prostejov Title
The 28-year-old saved his best tennis for the championship match
After a decade on tour, Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan has won the biggest ATP Challenger Tour title of his career.
Competing this week at the $125,000+H event in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the 28-year-old was in top form. In the championship, he earned his 12th ATP Challenger Tour title by defeating qualifier Marton Fuscovics of Hungary in 59 minutes, 6-1, 6-2. The win was the fourth ATP Challenger Tour final this year to finish in under an hour.
Former world No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, the tournament ambassador this year in Prostejov, was on hand to give Kukushkin his winner’s trophy.
“I didn’t expect that I was going to win coming here, but was getting more confidence with each match. My quarter-final (against two-time defending champion and local favourite Jiri Vesely) was probably the most important win for me this week,” said Kukushkin. “To win the biggest Challenger is very important. This tournament is famous on tour and has a lot of strong players.”
Kukushkin is now on a 10-match win streak on the ATP Challenger Tour, having won the most recent Challenger he entered last July at his home in Astana. He’s entered Challengers sparingly in recent years, but enjoyed great success when he has, compiling an 18-4 record since 2014.
The Kazakhstani admits to struggling with injuries just as he’s found his stride. Shortly after entering the Top 50 of the Emirates ATP Rankings in 2012, injury forced him to sit out the fall season. He rebounded strongly in the second half of 2012, winning three ATP Challenger Tour titles and finishing as runner-up in two other events. After an extended absence, Kukushkin re-entered the Top 50 last fall, earning a career-high ranking of No. 46 in October.
“Because I’ve had periods of my career where I was dealing with injuries, the main thing for me is to stay healthy,” he said. “I also want to improve my ranking as much as possible. I’ve already been in the Top 50 and would like to try and go even higher than that.“
After winning in Prostejov, Kukushkin said it’s a safe assumption he’ll return next year to defend his title.
“The tournament is very good. It’s a quiet place since we’re staying on site at the club and there are a lot of courts to hit on,” he said. “I’ve already played here a couple of times and enjoyed it, but I like it here even more now that I’ve won!”