Wimbledon 2014: Blazing trail with women coaches pays off for both Denis Istomin and Mikhail Kukushkin

The Uzbeki is coached by his mother, while the Kazakh is married to his coach


Sharing a hotel room with your mother may not be ideal for any 27-year-old. Denis Istomin, Uzbekistan’s leading player, who has often done so on his travels round the world, jokes that it prevents him taking girls there.

One of the benefits, however, is extra time spent with his coach, who happens to be that mum, Klaudiya. And they should be able to afford a room each after earning a minimum £71,000 by reaching the third round of the men’s singles, following today’s impressive 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 elimination of Germany’s Julian Reister.

The same arrangement, with a twist, applies to another competitor on court today, who is even happy to share a bed with his coach. Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan is married to Anastasia, who has worked with him for  five years.

Since Andy Murray became the only player in the current top 40 to employ a female coach, working on a trial basis with the 2006 Wimbledon champion Amélie Mauresmo, there has been greater interest in the whole issue. Istomin and Kukushkin would strongly recommend it and believe the trend can only increase.

The disappointment for Kukushkin, who will face a glamorous meeting with Rafael Nadal in the third round, is that his coach cannot be there to share the occasion. “Unfortunately she didn’t get a UK visa so could not come,” he revealed to The Independent after beating Canada’s Frank Dancevic. “She has tried a few times to get a UK visa but it takes a long time so although she would love to come here it has never happened.”

In the meantime Kukushkin has been working with a Ukrainian, Dima Brichet, who was courtside to see him comfortably dismiss Dancevic.

Coached by his father until he was 17, Kukushkin turned six years ago to Anastasia, then his girlfriend, who began offering small nuggets of advice on physical preparation as well as tactics and technique that he found improved his game.

“I was having a tough time, around 250 in the rankings and struggling,” he said. “We had some really good preparation for an ATP tournament in Moscow where I did by far my best result so we started to work together [formally].

“There can be tough moments, she doesn’t want to push me too much, but a coach has to and it’s not a problem any more for us. I don’t see any bad points in having a female coach.”

As to whether more players, male and female, may follow suit he says: “Why not? It’s already happening that players are getting ex-stars to be their coaches or having two or three different coaches, so why not this new tradition?”

The proof appears to be in the rankings. Both are the top players in their respective countries, with Kukushkin No 63 in the world, which will improve after this Wimbledon, and Istomin at 45.

The latter’s mother was a coach at his first club, whose encouragement was vital after a car crash at the age of 14 left him in hospital for three months and unable to play for two years. “This is someone I can trust completely. We understand each other,” he has said.

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