Glenys Furness Interviews ATP Doubles Specialist Ken Skupski
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Glenys Furness for Tennis Atlantic
Ken Skupski is one of a British doubles team consisting of Brothers, currently ranked 100 in the world (with brother Neal just behind him at 102). The 32 year old took time out of his preparations for the new season, on his way to Bangkok to take to myself on behalf of Tennis Atlantic.
Having played for GB in Davis Cup when the British were down in the bottom tiers of the sport, he was instrumental in cementing a 3-0 lead in 2010 over Turkey to prevent relegation to the very bottom level of this competition.
Ken has partnered a number of players, most successfully (to date) Colin Fleming, his younger brother Neal turned professional in 2013, and the pair have been playing regularly together since that date.
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Glenys Furness: Has being a father changed your outlook on your career? Have you given Andy (Murray) any tips?
Ken Skupski: “Becoming a father changed me in so many ways it’s hard to mention them all. We are lucky we have a close family and we all chip in helping one another. Being a touring pro for 30 weeks a year it’s always nice to know family are there for you as it’s tough for my wife with two children. I always looked forward to kids but you don’t realise how amazing the instant connection is and how dependant they are on you and the decisions you make.
Scheduling has become more planned and less point chasing. Financially it’s so key that this year is a good one. We have put the hard work in to finish 2015 strong and give us a chance of ATP level tennis in 2016. We have hardly any points to defend till the grass court season.
Giving Andy advice, hmm, we spoke briefly at Davis Cup about kids and how you see things from a new perspective but I did tell him to take care during the birth. Passing out during my wife’s second labour wasn’t fun, I missed the birth.”
Glenys: How does it feel to compete with your brother all the time?
Ken: “Playing with your brother is the best thing. Not many families get to say they have two players in the worlds top 100 and to compete together regularly is amazing. The feelings when your win are shared and you get to celebrate as a family. What we have all been working towards since we were young. I find it quite stressful at times as the older brother. I like the responsibility it brings but when we have defeats I sometimes take it harder too, but that’s normal as it’s the protective bigger brother thing that is in me.
Overall we love the challenge together and we give it our best whenever we compete together. Being open helps the relationship as it’s easy to jump ship with other players.”
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Glenys: What is your goal for 2016 on the circuit?
Ken: “As I mentioned we have given ourselves a good shot to rise up early in 2016. Breaking top 50 by summer would be great and from there we can really get involved with bigger events and maybe go deep at a slam. At the moment our focus is on the short term and getting off to a good start as early 2015 didn’t go so well.”
Glenys: Do you think if the top players took part in doubles more often it would gain more publicity?
Ken: “Not really. The sport is very demanding so it’s not possible for one of the top players to play doubles and know others aren’t doing it. They would be at a disadvantage. Fans would enjoy watching but we all know their heart are more focused on the singles prize. Doubles needs stability with teams. More exposure for TV so fans can begin to follow specific players like the Bryan Brothers. They have been fantastic for the sport but we need the next generation to come through and maintain teams for longer than a year or two.
The British public love doubles. All social tennis is doubles so they look to us for tips and new ways to improve their own games. It’s different across Europe and that’s the issue. Different event organisers have different opinions on the sport of doubles. Some would scrap it all together and others want more”
Glenys: If you were in charge of the LTA, what would you do to capitalize on the success in Davis Cup this year going forward?
Ken: “That’s a tough one. I would need to know more before I could comment.”
Glenys: Who were your idols when you were first starting out?
Ken: “During my junior years I loved Thomas Muster as my favourite lefty even though his game was totally different to mine, but Pete Sampras was amazing. I always had a passion for doubles from an early age. Playing at my local club in league tennis (doubles) I worked my way up into the first team by the age of 14 and always wanted to be a top doubles player. The Bryan brothers by that point were taking charge of pro tennis so I’ve always followed them and their amazing energy on court.”
Glenys: If you had not taken up Tennis, what would your career have been?
Ken: “If I hadn’t played tennis, hmm…my dad was a semi pro goalkeeper and I always enjoyed playing that position as a kid but my dad was keen for me to focus on tennis. He was right but if I had a chance I would have liked to given that a try. I’m a keen golfer too but that ended when I became a dad. If it wasn’t sport. I would love to own a coffee shop. I love my coffee.”
Glenys: How would YOU increase the coverage or “popularity” of doubles?
Ken: “Again it’s all about fans getting behind certain teams. The doubles scoring is entertaining. Plenty of important moments and never really goes beyond 90 mins. Fans want to back individuals or teams. ( every one is a Rafa or Fed fan etc.) we as doubles players need a system where it’s tougher to switch partners. Once you get established teams you will get an established following for teams and rivalries. I think people also appreciate doubles more when it’s live. Seeing the angles and agility the players have is incredible. The variety of styles is also good. Not everyone serve and volleys these days which is fun when your tactically analysing teams.”
Glenys: Do you think it is easier to deal with the mental side of the game as a doubles team?
Ken: “It’s never easy. Winning and losing is the same no matter what. You could say it’s worse and someone else is depending on you and same for them. You are more likely to have more opportunities in doubles to break or be broken. Many matches come down to one or two shots in a match tie break. It’s horrible going in bad runs like we did last year. I think we began season losing 8/10 match tie breaks before June. After June it all changed. A bad run makes you feel it’s never going to change and a winning streak makes you feel unbeatable.”
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Glenys: On that basis – how do you control pressure both individually and as a team on the court?
Ken: “Sometimes you accept you can play your best and get beat and it’s important to not get too carried away with yourself when things are going well. Forgetting defeats quickly is good but also learning from them is more important. We stick together as brothers should but a nervous moment is always possible so it’s important you can acknowledge each situation and deal with it the best you can. We have been through many highs and lows so we both know what to do in these moments.”
Ken & Neal are the British #5 & #6 in doubles and will start their campaign in the Bangkok Challenger. The brothers will be looking to have a winning start to the 2016 season and we wish them all the best.