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Andy rival Mikhail has already found the perfect match

By Paul Newman

As he demonstrated when becoming the first male Grand Slam champion to appoint a woman other than a family member as his coach, Andy Murray is more open to ideas than most. However, could the Scot ever imagine being coached by his wife Kim?

"I wouldn't have thought so," Murray said with a smile. "She coaches me on a lot of things but not tennis."

Maybe Murray's mindset will change after his first-round match here today. The Scot, who is coached by Amelie Mauresmo, starts his Wimbledon campaign against Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin, who is coached by his wife. Anastasia Kukushkin started working with the World No 59 six years ago and married him two years later.

The couple reflected on the challenges of being both husband and wife while also being player and coach.

"Of course it can be tough to combine (being husband and wife) with life on the tennis court, but we have been together for many years," Mikhail Kukushkin said.

"We are used to dividing the tennis and normal life.

"Sometimes it's difficult, especially when I'm not playing well, or losing tough matches, but we are used to it so we try to separate things. In tennis we are just player and coach and outside it we are just family. For us, it's a good relationship like that. It's working out."

Do they talk tennis at home? "We do talk, of course, but there is no problem with that," Kukushkin said. "We talk about problems in matches, what I have to improve on."

The 27-year-old Kukushkin, who was born in Russia but took Kazakhstan nationality seven years ago, admitted that some other players had been sceptical about his choice of coach. However, Anastasia, who is also Russian, insisted: "It doesn't matter who your coach is. If you get the results, it doesn't matter whether your coach is a man or a woman."

Although other men are coached by women - Denis Istomin by his mother and Donald Young by both of his parents - they are few and far between. Kukushkin said: "I believe most other tennis players don't support (the idea)."

What does Kukushkin consider Anastasia's best qualities are as a coach? "What is important for me is that she knows me very well and knows what I have to do to improve as a player," he said.

"If I brought in another coach they might be a very good coach, but they might not know what I have to do to come back to my level when I play badly."

And her worst? "She doesn't really have any bad features," Kukushkin said with a smile.

How nervous does Anastasia get when she watches her husband play? "I don't think I'm as nervous as I was three or four years ago. Now I'm just relaxing and trying to give him more power," she said.

What if Kukushkin decided he needed a new coach or if she had an offer to coach one of the top players? "I am not for sale!" Anastasia replied.

Kukushkin added: "Of course it would be a tough question. Every player has up-and-down situations. Some think this is because of the coach, not because of them. I know that if I play badly it is not because of my coach, it is because I prepared badly or my physical condition is bad. It's not about changing the coach.

"Sometimes when I am playing badly, she is disappointed with me. She is always trying to push me to practice more and become better."

Did Anastasia ever suggest he should do more housework on days when he played badly? "Not really," Kukushkin said.

But Anastasia added: "Now I think about it, why not?"

He appreciates the size of his task against Murray. "He played in a Grand Slam final at the start of the year. And to get a draw with Andy Murray, at his home, one of his favourite tournaments, it's tough."

Kukushkin lost in straight sets to Roger Federer in the first round in 2011 and in four sets to Rafael Nadal in the third round last year, both on Centre Court. Murray won both his previous meetings with Kukushkin but has not played him since 2012.

"He must relax," Anastasia said before asking in Russian for her husband to help.

He translated: "She is just saying that I have to play my game, not to look to my opponent.

"That is the first priority."

Belfast Telegraph


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