How often does a tennis player get to play the same opponent twice in the same ATP tournament? And defeat him both the times? We are not talking of the ATP tour finals, where the format allows for such a possibility. We are talking of a normal ATP tour tournament such as a Grand Slam, Masters 1000, ATP 500, ATP 250 or the Challenger tournaments.
Such a possibility exists, of course, but is an extreme rarity. For that to happen, both the players should not be qualifying for the main draw directly, rather would have to play in the qualifying matches first. If they play each other in the qualifying round, then one of them progresses and the other one exits the tournament, unless he is the ‘lucky loser’ who gets to the main draw despite losing. Then there is a possibility, again a slim one, of meeting each other in the main draw.
That’s exactly how it transpired for the 30-year-old Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin and the 20-year-old Russian Andrey Rublev this week. Because both of them are ranked in the 70s, it was natural that they would need to play the qualifiers to have a chance of entering the main draw of a prestigious ATP 500 event like the Vienna Open.
In the qualifiers, the world number 71 Kukushkin was seeded 4th and the 76th ranked Rublev was seeded 5th. In the first qualifying round, Kukushkin defeated the 24-year-old Czech Vaclav Safranek in straight sets. Similarly, Rublev dispatched the 22-year-old Austrian Lucas Miedlev in a one-sided encounter.
In the second and final round of qualifying, Kukushkin and Rublev faced each other, where the more experienced Kukushkin got the better of the young Russian in straight sets and qualified for the main draw. But it was not the end of the tournament for Rublev. He too entered the main draw as a ‘lucky loser’.
In the first round, Kukushkin faced the tournament third seed and the crowd favourite world number 10 Grigor Dimitrov. Kukushkin was the underdog in this match, but he sprang a surprise by getting the better of Baby Federer in three tight sets.
On the other hand, Rublev faced world number 62 Denis Kudla in the first round whom he defeated in straight sets. These twin victories ensured that Kukushkin and Rublev achieved a rare distinction of playing each other twice in the same ATP tournament.
Kukushkin, oozing confidence after playing one of the greatest matches of his career against Dimitrov, had not much difficulty in seeing off the challenge from the Russian in straight sets, once again, this time in the round of 16.
In the process, both Kukushkin and Rublev created a slice of tennis history. Kukushkin will certainly be proud to be a part of this unique unscripted tennis feat, whereas the Russian would like to forget it in a hurry.Published 26 Oct 2018, 00:41 IST