Lukasz's Double Life
by James Buddell
Pre-hair cut, Lukasz Kubot looked more like a surfer than a tennis player.
Lukasz Kubot is proving that hard work and a solid doubles game can be transformed into a viable force inside the doubles alley.
Tall, lean and bronzed, Lukasz Kubot looked more like a surfer than a tennis player until he decided to cut his long blond locks for the first time in 11 years after an early exit at Wimbledon in June. It came as a surprise to his family, but the amiable Pole has always made his own decisions. "I wanted to feel more comfortable and I am happy I made the change this summer," he says. "I'm hoping it will help my game!"
As an energetic teenager he once confidently stated, "If I am as good as I am good-looking I would be Top 10 player," but he has since matured and has proven to be equally adept as a singles and doubles player. "On the court, I am pumped up and have a lot of energy, but off the court I feel I am easy going," he explains. "When I was younger I sought perfection in everything I did. I still have a tendency to do things at the last minute, but I am trying hard to change."
This year, he may have to revert to his old habit. Kubot and his Austrian doubles partner Oliver Marach, whose common language is a mix of English and German on court, are predicting late qualification for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. They are currently tied-fifth in the year-to-date 2010 ATP Doubles Team Rankings. It is just their second full-season as a partnership.
"We missed three tournaments on clay at Stuttgart, Umag and Hamburg, when we could have picked up points on our favoured surface," says Kubot, who missed two months due to an ankle injury. "Having done so well at the start of the year, it was disappointing to be out for so long. But that's life. I am focusing on getting healthy as quickly as possible, because many teams have a chance at qualifying for the Finals."
Kubot and Marach excelled during the Latin American clay-swing in February, when they compiled an 11-1 mark. They won the Movistar Open in Santiago; finished runners up at the Brasil Open in Costa do Sauipe and won their fifth ATP World Tour team title at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. They have a 24-15 match record on the season.
But Kubot admits his recent return to the ATP World Tour hasn't been easy. "It's been frustrating. I've undergone treatment three-to-four times a day, but I was also able to do fitness work on my upper body and the time off has helped me mentally, so that now I'm ready for the final push for London qualification."
The Lubin resident has another goal. In 2009, only four players – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jurgen Melzer, Tommy Robredo and Pablo Cuevas – finished in the year-end Top 50 of both the singles and doubles ranking. Kubot hopes to achieve that feat this year.
Wielding a Fischer racquet, made famous by one of his childhood idols, former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and with an equally weighty grip, Kubot – already a well-established doubles star – is looking to finish the year inside the Top 50 of the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings. It would mark the first time in 25 years a Pole has done so.
Popular amongst his fellow professionals, he is a fine returner, with a powerful serve, a solid forehand and long reach. As a lucky loser, Kubot was a singles finalist at the 2009 Serbia Open in Belgrade (l. to Djokovic) that he describes "as a complete career 360-degree turnaround."
As a result of Agnieszka Radwanska's rise into the Top 10 of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings, three Polish journalists travelled to the Australian Open in January, when they witnessed Kubot become the first Pole to reach a Grand Slam fourth round since Wojtek Fibak at 1982 Roland Garros.
The following month, at the Brasil Open in Costa do Sauipe he "played seven matches in three days to reach the singles and doubles finals", beating Albert Montanes, and Igor Andreev, only to run out of gas in the singles final (l. to Ferrero). In mid-April, he rose to a career-high No. 41 in the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings. "I'm determined to return to the Top 50 by years-end."
Of course, his newly-earned reputation as a Polish sporting hero is a far cry from his early career, when "only my family believed in me and I didn't have the right people by my side to tell me what to do."
Nobody ever put pressure on him to play tennis, but Kubot was determined to succeed and silenced those detractors who considered him a laughing stock by insisting his "only talent is one for hard work", when he left Poland for Austria in search of a bigger pool of hitting partners, indoor courts and experienced foreign coaches.
Tomas Hlasek, his Czech coach, has been a driving force behind Kubot's ranking improvement in recent years. "He has improved my game and forced me to be more aggressive, to play inside the baseline and mix it up," says Kubot, who often intersperses three to four hours of on-court training with long fitness sessions each day.
"I am learning all the time, especially in doubles. I am attempting to get closer to the net, to serve and volley and to think more about how I construct points."
With these additions to his armoury, Kubot firmly believes he can become an even better all-round player. "I have to make my body fitter and even though I am 28 years old, I think I can do so strengthening my legs and my serve. In the winter I will work hard, to ensure I keep improving."
After years of hard graft, Kubot is determined to maintain his singles and doubles career as long as he can and prove those critics wrong, who never dared to believe he could compete with the best.