On The Rise... Andrey Golubev
by James Buddell
Andrey Golubev is a credit to his parents upbringing, unfailingly polite and courteous, the Kazak will be one to watch in 2011.
Andrey Golubev likes nothing more than sitting in front of the television at home, but don’t be fooled into thinking this year’s Hamburg champion doesn’t have burning ambition.
Bypassing the claustrophobic basketball and volleyball halls in search of a healthy outdoor sport, Andrey Golubev was drawn to tennis as a six year old, yet he quickly found court time was at a premium in Volzhskij and Volgograd.
Away from Moscow, the sport’s hub in Russia, Golubev relied on the encouragement of his doctor father, Alexander, who, as substitute for a court-side coach, oversaw his son’s training that regularly included striking hundreds of imaginary tennis balls in the family’s apartment.
“He used to hit forehand and backhand strokes without a ball 500 times every day in their small apartment,” said Massimo Puci, his coach since 2002. “He did it because they didn’t have courts for more than three hours for week.”
Sometimes playing six to a court, on uneven bouncing surfaces, the fast-improving Golubev, with an aptitude for learning, became frustrated by inclement weather and less than perfect facilities.
“I used to look out the window at the weather each morning,” admitted Golubev, who provided vivid recollections of his childhood, at the Swiss Indoors Basel earlier this month. “If it was raining outside, I would do physical work and if it wasn’t raining I would play tennis.
“Until I was aged 15, especially in the winter months, I played with six players on court and the surface was like crazy paving. It was not perfect tennis conditions! Not wanting to live in Moscow, which had the majority of tournaments, I moved to Italy for the benefit of my tennis.”
Puci, who first watched the 14 year old on a videotape sent by his Andrey’s father, says he “understood immediately he (Andrey) could become a top player. I bet my own and my family’s money on it.”
Invited by his friend, Igor Eremin, Golubev travelled to attend the Match Ball Bra Tennis Academy in north-west Italy, close to Turin, as a player of promise who dreamt of following in the footsteps of Pete Sampras and Marat Safin.
“I don’t want to say I lost a few years by staying in Russia, but I do believe I was a little bit behind European players in my development,” said Golubev. “It didn’t matter too much in the end, because if you’re good enough you’ll break through.”
Yet, Golubev’s route into the professional ranks was almost derailed before it had even started. “When Andrey was 18 he was losing a lot of the time and everyone at my Academy lost confidence in him,” confessed Puci.
“His father, Alexander, advised him to return to his studies. But I was against this and fought against everybody and during one meeting at the club I said: ‘If you don’t want to support Andrey anymore, I will sell my apartment to pay for his training.’
“I just had one little flat at the time. Luckily, his parents agreed to let me continue to train Andrey, but I was told I couldn’t have one more chance.”
With the warning ringing in his ears, Puci set to work in 2005 by dismantling Golubev’s double-handed backhand in favour of a single-handed stroke – just as his idol Sampras had done almost 20 years before. Golubev also added extra pop to his serve and forehand.
“It was easy to change,” said Golubev, with a smile. “I was lucky to pick things up quickly when I was younger. The first year was not easy when I competed at tournaments, but I got stronger and stronger and improved my backhand.
“Massimo put me on different programmes and provided video analysis of my matches that helped me develop. My parents also helped me mentally and my father sometimes travelled with me in my early days.”
Puci adds, “His family gave him a very good education, and he continued to learn when he came to my house. My big responsibility has been to ferry him from teenager to man.”
Coach and player “travelled to tournaments in far flung places to get ranking points,” always having to qualify for ITF Futures and ATP Challenger Tour events. “I did not receive wild cards,” said Golubev. “It wasn’t always easy, but I got through it and it is now part of my life experience.
“The most difficult step for a player is on the Futures and Challengers Tours, when you are young. It is easy when you are No. 50 and you start with a new coach. You’re already a player. Ninety-five per cent of the work has been done.”
Golubev made his ATP World Tour debut in November 2007 at the Swiss Indoors in Basel and went onto finish the year at No. 171 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.
Switching allegiances from Russia to Kazakhstan in June 2008, he broke into the Top 100 at No. 93 in October of that year after reaching his first ATP World Tour final at the St. Petersburg Open (l. to Murray).
“I didn’t have any ranking or tournament goals this year,” admitted Golubev, looking back on the best season of his career. “I just wanted to improve my tennis.”
In the space of four months, Golubev rose from No. 82 to just outside the Top 30 of the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings.
In July he beat his first Top 10 player, No. 6-ranked Nikolay Davydenko, en route to lifting his first ATP World Tour title at the German Open Tennis Championships in Hamburg (d. Melzer) and helped Kazakhstan reach the 2011 Davis Cup World Group for the first time in the nation’s 15-year history in the competition.
At the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur in October, Golubev defeated No. 5-ranked Robin Soderling and No. 11-ranked David Ferrer before he narrowly lost to World No. 9 Mikhail Youzhny in the final on his favoured indoor hard courts.
“I knew I was close to making a breakthrough, but it happened so fast. I felt as if I was closing on a title, but did not expect to win on clay in Hamburg. It was unexpected to win without dropping a set and it proved to me that I could play at a high level.
“My rise from No. 80 to No. 40 allowed me to gain direct entry into [ATP World Tour] 500 and Masters 1000 tournaments. I took three steps at once.”
Golubev has always preferred playing matches to practising, but understands the importance of off-court training. “I am 23 now, and firmly believe that 24 and 25 are the best ages to play great tennis. I am going to work hard to try and see how high I can go. I will do my best.”
In matches, the Kazak predominantly uses his upper body, but extra gym work to build-up his leg muscles could see him improve a 1-18 record this year in matches after losing the first set and edge him closer to his short-term goal of breaking into the Top 20.
Puci says Golubev “is a very good trainer off the court. He is sometimes lazy, but overall good. He doesn’t like to run too much! To be in the Top 10 he must improve physically.”
For Golubev, who is incredibly level-headed, his career plan is crystal clear.
“I have a three-year deal with the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, but maybe in the future I might represent Italy.
“I want to be in the Top 10. Now that I have a good ranking, I can schedule my tournaments better and go further at the bigger events. I need to improve my physical condition to be stronger and I want to improve my consistency.”