From Tennis-X site..."
Russian tennis phenom poised for Tiburon run
Nice story on Dmitry Tursunov, a Russian-American slugger who Brad Gilbert picks to be in the Top 20 a year from now. We'll say Top 40, but maybe Top 30 if he keeps hitting with Roddick at Brad's house."
Russian tennis phenom poised for Tiburon run
Thursday, October 09, 2003 - Although he's from Moscow and still lists Russia as his home country, tennis player Dmitry Tursunov is a Californian in spirit. As one of the hottest players on the ATP tour right now, it's likely he'll feel quite a home on the courts of Tiburon Peninsula Club next week during the $37,500 Tiburon Challenger.
The United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit event will take place about 90 minutes from his home in Granite Bay, a tony suburb of Sacramento. It will also be about 90 minutes from Los Altos, where he spent his teen years honing his game.
"I didn't think I was going to stay here that long, but it turned out that way," Tursunov said. "I've stayed here long enough now that most of my friends are here, so it's more convenient for me. I like it here."
The tournament, believed to be the first for internationally ranked pro players in Marin's history, starts with qualifying Saturday and Sunday and begins full-force with the main draw on Monday. The finals are Sunday, Oct. 19, and the singles winner will receive $5,400.
Tursunov, 21, is an excellent bet to take home a fat check. Although he is No. 103 in the world, he appears to be poised to move up quickly in the rankings. As if to underscore this, he was invited to hit with U.S. Open champ Andy Roddick yesterday at Brad Gilbert's home in San Rafael.
"I wouldn't be surprised a year from now that he's in the top 20 in the world," said Gilbert, Roddick's coach and the former coach of Andre Agassi.
No doubt Tursunov's claim to fame this year was his thrilling five-set upset of Gustavo Kuerten - a two-time French Open champion - in the first round of the U.S. Open. After one more win there and a loss to Xavier Malisse, Tursunov left New York with a check for $37,500, same amount as the total prize money in Tiburon.
"I just got my (stuff) together, that's all," Tursunov said. "You get a little bit of confidence and figure out how to play on your bad days. There's going to be a bottom of the hill, but right now I think I'm still going up."
Tursunov won 10 consecutive matches last month to win two Challengers, considered one step below ATP events such as San Jose's Siebel Open. He won an event in Mandeville, La., and another the following week in San Antonio. He took last week off to rest a chronic back injury, but said he'll be fine next week.
"He's going to break into the top 100 and stay there for a long time," said Jeff Salzenstein, a Stanford alum and one of the top seeds next week in Tiburon.
Tursunov moved to the United States with his father, Igor, at age 12 and settled in Los Altos, home of the Gorin Tennis Academy. Vitaly Gorin, a Russian-born instructor who operated the academy with his father, became Tursunov's primary coach and Tursunov's father returned to Moscow.
As Tursunov told the Sports Ticker's Dale Brauner in August, top Russian players prefer to train outside of Russia because of the high costs for training facilities. "We had to pay for indoor courts, we had to pay for outdoor courts, we had to pay for a lot of things," he said. "Russian salaries didn't allow you to pay for those things."
A few years later, Tursunov played tennis at Menlo School. He made quick work of the Bay Area's top junior players and won the Central Coast Section championship as a freshman. That was the end of his high school playing career.
Nearly 2,000 players hold pro world rankings at any given time, and like most others on the tour, Tursunov joined the fray when he was 18. He started touring around the globe, keeping the Gorin Tennis Academy - which has since moved to Granite Bay - as his base.
By grinding it out at the lowest level of pro events and winning qualifying matches to make main tournament draws (where the money and computer points are won), he jumped to No. 320 by the end of 2000, less than a year after he turned professional.
One year later he was at No. 174 and made his first big splash with a victory over ninth-ranked Greg Rusedski in the second round of the Memphis ATP event. He made it to the quarterfinals there before falling to Mark Philippoussis, but he briefly became the talk of the pro tour.
A back injury caused him to miss the first half of 2002 and his ranking slipped to No. 388 as computer points earned from the past 52 weeks began to expire. He rebounded quickly when he came back that summer, plowing through the field at a $15,000 Futures tournament (call it the equivalent of Double-A baseball) and reaching the quarterfinals or semifinals of several Challengers. He even beat fading legend Michael Chang, then ranked No. 105, at the 2002 San Antonio Challenger.
This year, he's gradually climbed back up the rankings. At the Siebel Open in February, he pushed Mardy Fish (now ranked No. 23) to a third-set tiebreaker in the first round before losing; was runner-up to Salzenstein at the Aptos Challenger in the Santa Cruz area, then was a finalist at the Bronx Challenger just before the U.S. Open.
The victory over Kuerten - 7-1 in a fifth-set tiebreaker - was the breakthrough he'd sought for many years, but he doesn't necessarily see it as a career-maker.
"I was just trying to treat it as a regular match, as if I'm playing Salzenstein in Aptos again," Tursunov said. "You can't treat it too differently or else you'll feel more pressure. ... I'll take the wins any way I can. The crowd kind of liked it and it got me some more exposure. I got a little more phone calls and e-mails, but it's quieting down now.
"There's been more hype, but overall, the people who deal with you at the bottom are the ones you should stick with when you're at the top."
Ross resident Tom Ross, a vice president with the athlete representation firm Octagon, knows all about what's at the top of the tennis world. He has been the agent for many tennis stars through the years - including his current top client, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt. He has seen Tursunov play on many occasions and is impressed with his potential.
"I wasn't surprised to see him break out at the Open," Ross said. "When you look at the Tiburon draw, the one guy you are certain who will make the top 50, the guy who has the best chance to really move up, would probably be Tursunov."
Tursunov said a key player in his recent development is Jose Higueras, best known as the former coach of Michael Chang, Jim Courier and Todd Martin. Higueras, who lives in Palm Springs, pinpointed Tursunov's few shortcomings and worked with him for a few weeks before and after the U.S. Open.
"I tried to get him to have a better understanding of how to position himself on the court, how to hit the ball and see the effectiveness of his shots," said Higueras, who reached No. 6 in the world 20 years ago. "He needed to understand the transition game and work on his feet. From there, you can go on and work on other things. In tennis, quickness doesn't always translate into moving well."
Higueras taught Tursunov that anticipation of the next shot is almost as important as making a shot. "It's a matter of defending yourself and taking advantage through positioning."
As for Tursunov's long-term chances, Higueras is cautious about making a grand prediction. "Quite a few guys have great potential, but that doesn't always lead to success," he said.
Tursunov knows he has a lot of work ahead, but the successful comeback from his back problems and his recent wins have inspired him to keep improving.
"It's so interesting to step back and look at everything for a few seconds," he said. "You're always in the process of learning as long as you play the game. I can't imagine what Agassi is learning now. What I'm going through would be kindergarten for him."
Contact Brent Ainsworth via e-mail at email@example.com