Cute article. It was sweet of Andy to mentor him. But on CHristmas Day?? lol
Ukrainian-born tennis player gets 2 big breaks
BY CHARLES BRICKER
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - (KRT) - He was 16 years old, still a bit jittery from being asked to work out the No. 1 player in the world for five days, but also up 6-0 in a little game of baseline tennis to 11.
Andy Roddick grinned at him from across the net and stuck in the needle. ``Alex, what did you have for breakfast? Lucky Charms?''
That's all Ukrainian-born Alex Kuznetsov needed to completely relax. That and a choice seat at a Miami Heat game and several dinners out with Roddick, Roddick's girlfriend, Mandy Moore, and coach Brad Gilbert.
It was last December, when Roddick was getting ready for the 2004 season. Tuesday, a month and a half past his 17th birthday, the young man from Richboro, Pa., is preparing himself for thrill ride No. 2 - hitting partner to the U.S. Davis Cup team that plays Sweden April 9-11 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
``This is going to be the most exciting thing I've ever done,'' Kuznetsov said Monday in a telephone interview from Mobile, Ala., where he's playing a USTA Futures tournament.
He was having dinner with his agent and coach two weeks ago when Patrick McEnroe buzzed him to ask him to come to Delray. ``Yeah, I got a big rush. To hear Patrick say that ... '' He never finished the sentence and he didn't have to.
Kuznetsov won't be on the program. He won't be announced when the matches start. Few outside his family and friends will know he has anything to do with the team.
But this is a dream opportunity for any junior and he got it because he's loaded with potential. ``A tremendous talent,'' McEnroe called him. ``He's a very, very hard worker. I hit with him a few times at Wimbledon last year, and I think this is going to be a great experience for him.''
He's already had a great experience hitting with Roddick at the Chris Evert Tennis Center in Boca Raton. ``Best five days of my life,'' Kuznetsov said.
Born in Kiev, his parents moved to the United States when he was three and were naturalized three years after that, making Alex as American as McEnroe.
``Andy's agent told me I had to fly down on Christmas Day,'' Kuznetsov said. So he opened his presents in the morning and flew in the afternoon.
On Dec. 26, he and Roddick got on a hardcourt at Evert's. ``I was standing on the baseline and I'll never forget the first forehand he hit me. It ate me up,'' he said.
``He started taking serves and I can tell you his warmup serves start at about 130 mph. I was ducking out of the way. When I came up to the net, he tried to hit the ball as hard as he could at me. He likes to play around like that. I can't think of a moment during the five days that we weren't joking or having a great time.''
As he prepared himself for the first practice session, he was telling himself just to not screw it up. ``I was thinking just try to do your best. But Andy's such a great guy, he made it easy.''
He sounded more excited to meet Moore than he was to be hitting with Roddick, but he kept his composure. ``Mandy Moore!'' he exclaimed. ``I just tried to be quiet. I didn't want to be a loudmouth.''
At 6-foot-1 and 163 pounds, Kuznetsov is a player with the potential to have a complete game. He's athletic, has good movement, reacts to the ball well and is roundly described by those who know him as a young man who won't come off the court unless you cuff him and throw him in the shower.
It's difficult to quantify what a young player can take away from a week with the Davis Cup team, but it's considerable. You're watching the way professionals work and comport themselves, how they play points and prepare themselves for matches.
If his visit to Roddick in December was the best five days of his life, this could be his best seven.