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30 August 2016

New York beware! Tennis superkid Nico is on a US Open mission

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: Nicola Kuhn (centre) with tennis legend John McEnroe at Wimbledon in July. Also pictured are men's singles finalist Milos Raonic (second right), Nico's coach Fran Martinez (extreme left) and Raonic's coach Carlos Moya, himself a former world No.1 

EUROPEAN tennis wonderkid Nicola Kuhn is on the verge of the big-time after leaping more than 400 places up the ATP men's world rankings  in just two weeks.

And the 16-year-old Spanish sensation's stunning form comes at the ideal time with the junior United States Open scheduled to begin at Flushing Meadows this weekend. .

Nico, his country's top-ranked junior and ranked No.17 in the world at 18-and-under level, headed for the States brimming with confidence. "I am very happy with my form,'' insisted the star pupil of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero's Equilite Academy in Villena.

"Last year's US Open was my first Grand Slam experience and I learnt a lot from it. I'll be spending much of my time working on my game and my fitness - and I am confident I can do well.''

Multi-lingual Nico, whose international pedigree includes Spanish, Austrian, German, Russian and even British connections, had to play through three qualifying rounds last year and went out in the first round of the main competition. This time, he goes straight into the main draw seeded as a genuine contender for the title - an achievement that would make him one of the youngest players to win a junior Grand Slam. 

In his first taste of the  senior ATP Challenger circuit, the blond six-footer celebrated his wild card entry by beating world No.320 Juan Pablo Paz of Argentina in the  first round at Meerbusch in Germany two weeks ago.

He followed that up by storming into the semi-final of last week's ITF Futures tournament in Santander. 

The seven ranking points that went with the Challenger victory lifted Nico to No.1015 behind the legendary Novak Djokovic - a jump of nearly 1,000 places since the beginning of the year. And the six points he amassed in Santander will lift him another 100-plus places when the next rankings list is published. .
Although he lost 6-2 6-3 at Meerbusch to eventual tournament winner Florian Mayer, the Kuhn kid was far from outclassed by a 32-year-old player who has beaten both Andy Murray and Rafel Nadal and has twice reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Kid Kuhn in action at the Meeerbusch Challenger tournament
Top-seeded Mayer, once world No.18, dropped out of the top 100  after a succession of injuries. However, the German's recent form has been scintillating, and he has soared back to No.59 after a run of ten successive victories and back-to-back Challenger tournaments wins.
None of Mayer's subsequent opponents at Meerbusch did any better than Kuhn, who has targeted a place in the top 600 by the end of the year.
In his first taste of the  senior Challenger circuit, Spain’s top junior celebrated his wild card entry by beating world No.320 Juan Pablo Paz of Argentina in the  first round at Meerbusch in Germany.
The seven ranking points that went with the victory lifted Nico to No.1015 behind the legendary Novak Djokovic - a jump of nearly 1,000 places since the beginning of the year.
And although he lost 6-2 6-3 at Meerbusch to eventual tournament winner Florian Mayer, the young pretender was far from outclassed by a player twice his age, who has beaten both Andy Murray and Rafel Nadal in the past - and twice reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Nico on his way to the junior French Open
semi final at Roland Garros earlier this year
NicTop-seeded Mayer, once ranked world No.18, dropped out of the top 100  after a succession of injuries. However, the German's recent form has been scintillating, and he has soared back to No.59 after a run of ten successive victories and back-to-back Challenger tournaments wins.
Nico said of  the Mayer experience: "It was a match with some opportunities. I broke him two or three times on his serve, but couldn't hold mine because I can't serve as hard as he does. I also made some mistakes and he also had some luck. 
"The second set was more open till 3-3, then he went a gear higher and I couldn't break him back. I feel I have the level, but I need to improve my fitness. He said I played good and I should continue like this.''
None of Mayer's subsequent opponents at Meerbusch did any better than Kuhn, who has targeted a place in the ATP top 600 by the end of the year. 

Kid Kuhn, whose dad is German and mother Russian, was born in Austria three months before his parents moved to the Costa Blanca and settled in a predominantly British expat community in the Costa Blanca holiday resort of Torrevieja.

With a multi-national background like that, Nico could open up a whole new world of fame if all goes well in New York. 

  3 Attached Images

15 April 2016

Spain and able! Tennis champ Kuhn heads for top of the world

TENNIS tug-o'-war kid Nicola Kuhn celebrated his official switch to Spanish citizenship by winning the nation's top  junior tournament on Sunday. And in the process he blew away the challenge of top-seed Jay Clarke, the Derby youngster being touted in Britain as a future Andy Murray. 

Just three weeks after his 16th birthday, the most prodigious young talent in Spain won the Juan Carlos Ferrero Trophy at Villena – the country's only Grade 1 tournament for players aged 18 and under. 
It was his second tennis crown in a row after he bagged the Grade 2 title at Vinaros, near Castellon the previous week.
And to emphasise his huge talent, the superfit six-footer from Torrevieja was the youngest competitor in each tournament.
The back-to-back titles earned Kuhn a mammoth 250 ITF ranking points, rocketing him to No.21 in the world rankings, one of only two players in the top 100 born in the 21st century.  His success has also and providing a timely morale-booster for his first tilt at the French Open at Roland Garros next month.
The son of a German father and Russian mother, Nico and his family have lived in Torrevieja since he was three months old. However, he switched his tennis allegiance to Germany when the country he regards as home felt unable to help with his colossal travel and equipment costs.
Nicola Kuhn with his mentor, former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero
Over the past four years the Kuhn kid has led the German juniors to a string of successes, including the Final of last year's Junior Davis Cup, in which he was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
Despite those successes, Nico never felt totally comfortable playing for Germany, even though he speaks the language fluently, along with English and Russian.
The process proved to be far more complicated than Nico and his parents had expected – not least the red tape involved in obtaining a Spanish passport in addition to the one Nico already had.
The official switch finally came last week, coinciding with the Juan Carlos Ferrero tournament – which also happens to be his 'home' base. He has trained and studied at former world No.1 Ferrero's's academy since he was 12 and his victory in Sunday's final against fellow Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina confirmed him as Spain's top junior player.
The manner of his victory in the final was not ideal, Fokina retiring with a back injury with Kuhn takng the first set 6-3 and leading 1-0 in the second set.
But the No.7 seed had been in supreme form all week, as epitomised by his 6-1, 6-3 thrashing of 17-year-old Clarke, Britain's No.1 junior,– in the quarter-final.
Nico, who began 2016 ranked No.70, is well ahead of schedule in his declared aim of reaching the world Top 10 this year. He has also set his sights on climbing into the ATP's top 600 and providing a springboard to fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a top professional player.
At his current rate of progress, it seems merely a matter of when, rather than if King Kuhn will achieve his ultimate ambition. He has already sampled the Grand Slam atmosphere at the 2015 US Open and this year's Australian Open. 
Now he feels he is ready to make a serious challenge for a major junior title - and  has earmarked Wimbledon in July as his prime target this summer.
He has little or no experience of playing on grass but will practise on carpet to replicate the All England Club's surface. And he says: "I believe I can do well there.'' 

8 February 2016

The new Nadal: El NIco sets sights on Wimbledon breakthrough

Tennis superkid Nicola Kuhn aims to put the experience of his 21,000-mile round trip to the Australian Open  to good use - by soaring to new heights in his quest to become Spain's next Rafa Nadal.
And the Torrevieja-based   has a hunch that Wimbledon 2016 could be the tournament that launches him as a genuine Grand Slam contender of the future.
Nico, one of only two 15-year-olds in the world's Top 50 juniors, celebrated his flying visit to the Southern Hemisphere's only Grand Slam tournament by reaching the Junior Doubles quarter final in Melbourne.
That unexpected success alongside Japan's top junior Toru Horie followed a singles horror show in which Austrian-born Nico failed to progress beyond the last 64 after being given the medical all-clear to compete following a foot stress fracture.
“Just being there in Melbourne was a great experience but I definitely needed more preparation time,'' he told me just hours after arriving back in Spain. “One thing is for sure. Next year I will try to get there a week before the tournament.''
In a ploy designed to counter the effects of jet-lag, blond six-footer Kuhn – a top pupil of former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero's Equelite Tennis Academy in Villena, near Valencia - stayed up all night at home in Torrevieja immediately before boarding his flight from Madrid to Doha en route to Australia.
The outcome of the eat now, sleep later exercise was particularly hard to swallow as, three days later, Nico was beaten by Canada's Jack Mingjie Lin after powering into a commanding 4-1 first-set lead in his opening match in Melbourne.
Lin went on to hit a streak of sensational form to take the match 6-4 6-3 and the lad from La Mata, who speaks Spanish, English, German and Russian fluently, generously conceded: “You can't do a lot to break someone's serve when your opponent is banging down three aces in his service games.''
However, Kuhn's overall game was about to come up with an unlikely ace of its own – a winning doubles partnership with Horie.
“Playing two matches in one day has been a bit too much physically in my career so far,'' Nico admits. “Now I find I can handle that sort of demand, so when Toru Horie suggested we partnered up for the Australian Open, I thought 'why not?' We had a tremendous match against each other in the Junior Davis Cup finals in October, when I won after saving two match points, and we also get on pretty well together.
“Our first match was a little crazy,'' reflected Nico on the new Horie alliance. “Basically we were both playing our own game but as things settled, it seemed to work OK and we started to feel more like a team.''
The first-round victory over Turkey's Irgi Kirkin and Aussie Alexei Popyrin and a shock success against No.4 seeds Yousef Hossam and Alberto Lim, took the unlikely lads into the last eight.
Kuhn and Horie finally capitulated to the eventual champions, local heroes Alex De Minaur and Blake Ellis, but Nico believes he and the highly-ranked Horie are destined for more success as a doubles pair.
Kuhn, who will be 16 next month, still has three more years' eligibility as a Junior, though his involvement with the ITF circuit is likely to be limited from now on as he pushes to climb the official Association of Tennis Professsionals ladder.
“My target is to be in ATP top 600 by the end of the year,'' he says, ''and also hopefully to reach the Junior Top 10.''
Climbing 1400 places up the ATP ladder (he is currently ranked 2009) will probably necessitate winning two Futures tournaments against adult professional opposition.
However, he already has enough ranking points to qualify for the main draw of all four junior Grand Slams and sees this summer's Wimbledon as the brightest ray of sunshine on the immediate horizon.
“The next Grand Slam challenge is the French Open at Roland Garros but Wimbledon is the one I am really looking forward to,'' he says. “I think I can do well there, even though playing on grass will be a new experience.''
More immediate on the agenda is the passport that will finally enable Nico to play under the flag of Spain, the country he has always regarded as home. His parents Alfred and Rita moved to Torrevieja when he was three months old and by his third birthday was already wielding his first tennis racket, a gift from mum and dad.
As the silverware mounted while still at junior school, the tennis authorities in his father's homeland Germany offered to finance Nico's rapidly increasing travel and equipment expenses – something their cash-strapped Spanish counterparts could not afford. And for the past four years Kaiser Kuhn has provided the main thrust of a highly successful German junior team.
The pinnacle was his record run of 11 successive singles victories in leading his father's homeland to the Final of the Junior Davis Cup and winning the tournament's Most Valuable Player award into the bargain.
That was to be Nico's final team appearance for Germany pending the long-anticipated arrival of the Spanish passport which will enable him to switch his national allegiance to the country he has always regarded as home.
Ironically, Nico is due to play in an ATP Futures tournament in Murcia on the day those passport formalities are scheduled for completion – adding yet another complication to the mass of red tape he has had to endure to be accepted on the international stage simply as El Nico, the blond  tennis kid from Torrevieja who made good.

14 January 2016

Why Spain's tennis superkid is tearing his Herr out at the Australian Open

Costa Blanca tennis sensation Nicola Kuhn must compete in next week's Australian Junior Open championship as a German – thanks to Spanish administrative bungling.

Kuhn, arguably the best 15-year-old player on the planet, has lived in Torrevieja since he was three months old. Yet he has been competing in team events for his father Alfred's homeland since he was 12, when the Germans beat the cash-strapped Spanish tennis authorities to the ball by offering to contribute to Nico's ever-increasing travel and equipment expenses.

Two years ago, the blond Costa kid led his adopted country to the World Under 14 title and last October powered Germany into the Junior Davis Cup final, winning 11 singles matches on the trot and picking up the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

Despite a truly international background, Austrian-born Nico's heart has always been with Spain. His mother Rita is Russian but he admits: “I have always felt more Spanish than anything.''

He has been given permission to compete for Spain as an individual in future tournaments, subject to obtaining a Spanish passport .

The paperwork should have been a formality but as those of us who live here are only too well aware, nothing ever runs smoothly in Spain – and El Nico is still waiting for the elusive document several months after applying for it.

Ideally, he would be competing as a Spaniard in Australia, the first Grand Slam tournament of 2016, but following frustrating bureaucratic delays, his father Alfred concedes: "As long as Nico has to wait for his Spanish passport, he has to play under the German flag.''

Young Kuhn also faces two years in limbo before he can put his German international allegiance fully behind him and compete in team events for Spain.

By the time he was 12, Nico had amassed a treasure chest of silverware in local tournaments. Hooked on tennis since Rita and Alfred bought him a racket for his third birthday, he joined the prestigious Equilite Tennis Academy run by former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

For the past three years he has commuted almost daily between his home in La Mata and the academy in Villena. That adds up to a round trip of 208 kilometres for his regular chauffeurs, namely his overworked parents.

And after a sensational 2015 and three months before his 16th birthday, Nico began 2016 as one of only two 15 year-olds in the world’s top 50 junior (18 and under) players. He also has a chance to make tennis history in Melbourne as one of the youngest players ever to win a Junior Grand Slam title.

Kuhn's 2015 form earned him enough ranking points to go straight into the main draw for the Australian Junior Open – and after disposing of three of the current World Top 10 in that record victory sequence in the Junior Davis Cup, he looks capable of beating any of the main contenders.

Nico's coach Fran Martinez, intent of keeping the youngster's feet firmly on the ground, plays down suggestions that he is the world’s best player born in the 21st century. Yet official ITF records show that he has achieved more at the age of 15 than Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer,
Andy Murray or Rafael Nadal managed in their youth.

Nico’s mentor Ferrero predicts: "I think he can be a great player and can reach a very high level if he continues working with the same mentality."

Boris Becker, who won Wimbledon at the age of 17, went even further after watching Kuhn in action a couple of years ago. ''He’s a better player than I was at his age,’’ conceded the
German legend.

Kuhn’s remarkable progress in 2015 won him the title of Alicante province's Most Promising sports star – and prompted Spain's national football authority La Liga to provide an extra kick by roping him into a new sponsorship package involving three top junior sports stars.
''I am not 100 per cent happy,’’ Nico says of his current international status as a German player.

''The ITF rule says I can’t play team competitions for Spain for two years - but I can
play under the Spanish flag.

''As for my tennis, I know I can get great results. But I need to work hard and focus on the next year.’’