Our countdown of the top 10 women behind the men:
No 9: Anastasia Ulikhina (Mikhail Kukushkin).
If Denis Istomin thinks he has a tough balancing act to cope with, spare a thought for Mikhail Kukushkin, a Kazakhstan player who four years ago had the nous, some would say bravery, to hire his girlfriend as his coach. Since they began working together, Anastasia Ulikhina has become Kukushin’s wife and her quiet influence has had a positive effect.
“It’s helped me to improve my game – I improved by 100 spots in the rankings,” Kukushkin said last year. “We have a good relationship and we try to really separate the relationship on the court and outside of the court. The point is to help me to improve my game. Some players need to have a strong coach, who follows him, who will watch and will tell him what to do. But I don’t need it. I just need the person who really wants to help, and not because of the money. I need to feel a good relationship between me and the coach.”
Like any couple, the pair fight occasionally but rarely in the tennis world, where Ulkihina has helped him with his “strange technique”. “Not many people understand this (relationship) or believe it,” Kukushkin says. “For me, it’s a great relationship. She helps me with everything: with tactics, with tennis, with my technique and also we do a lot of work together on my athletic preparation.
“And I think if you look at my results, it’s a good relationship. Of course, she is my wife so she doesn’t want to take money from me. She is interested only in my results. And for me it’s also important to know that I can believe in my coach, she can believe it and I am pretty happy that it’s working.”
As a former player, albeit one who never made it big as a senior, Ulikhina knows how much work goes into being a professional. A post-graduate P.E. student, her experience makes their relationship as coach and player work, separate to their life away from tennis. Kukuskhin may have dropped down the rankings in the past year to 156 but he was as high as No 49 last summer, so has the ability to do it again.