Andrey Kuznetsov has watched Andy Murray: Resurfacing, the documentary that details the former World No. 1’s battle with a hip injury, for which he had two surgeries. The second of those involved putting a metal implant into the Briton’s hip.
“It was a bit weird for me to look at the pictures because in the movie they’re actually showing pictures from the surgery, how they were cutting, the metal joint, all that stuff,” Kuznetsov told ATP Tour.com. “I was imagining myself on this table and I didn’t want to be there.”
The unranked Russian will begin his first tour-level event since 2017 Moscow on Tuesday when he plays Sam Querrey in the first round of the US Open. The former World No. 39 has been dealing with a hip injury of his own.
“It came from almost when I was born. I basically have had it all my life, but until I was 16 I did not know about it and it did not bother me,” Kuznetsov said. “When I was 16 I started to feel some pain, we started to do some medical checks and then me and my parents found out the situation is already pretty bad.”
Kuznetsov’s hip joint never developed properly. For the majority of his career, the 2009 Wimbledon boys’ singles champion has simply managed the pain. He would compete for two months, then go see his doctor in Marbella, Spain for a week or two to rehab.
“I always had some pain when I was playing, but it was acceptable pain that I could play with,” Kuznetsov said. “At the end of 2017, it became a bit worse and I was thinking, ‘Okay, I have the preseason now. I have six weeks, I could work with the doctor and it will become better.’ It did not get better. It became worse and worse slowly and then I tried to play one tournament in 2018. I realised I could not because it was too painful.”
Kuznetsov hoped to return that clay season, but things weren’t improving much. His doctor was also unable to predict when he’d be able to return to action. But then the pain got worse. Some people told Kuznetsov to have surgery, but he didn’t want to.
“In 2018 [I had] a really bad quality of life. I could not walk. I always had pain, even when I was lying down,” Kuznetsov said. “Maybe in one year it was becoming better, more like a normal life and the hip was okay. Then I started to jog a little bit and run a bit faster. [I took it] step by step all the time over these two years. I think this year at the end of February I already felt pretty okay. I started practising for myself.”
For a period, Kuznetsov served as a commentator for Eurosport Russia, he coached some junior players and also helped countryman Evgeny Donskoy starting after last year’s US Open. But he also got married to his wife, Darya, in June 2018. Their son, Max, was born last December.
“That’s an unbelievable feeling and I really enjoyed this period with my wife when she was pregnant and now when my son is growing up,” Kuznetsov said. “If I was a tennis player [this whole time] I would not have seen a lot of things. My son is learning how to do things and it’s very nice to see.”
The Russian was planning to return this March at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Marbella, but the COVID-19 pandemic suspended play earlier in the month. That allowed him to spend five months in Spain with his doctor for rehab. Now he says, “I don’t feel pain. Almost nothing.” Kuznetsov also got to train five times with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
“It was a pretty good opportunity for me. I was pretty lucky,” Kuznetsov said. “It was very nice for me. Even if I was already competing on Tour already to practise with him is a good opportunity. You can learn a lot from playing with him.”
Kuznetsov feels lucky to be in the US Open main draw, getting in with his protected FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 130. This will only be his second professional tournament since January 2018. Two weeks ago he lost in two tie-breaks in the first round of an ATP Challenger Tour event in Prague against Tallon Griekspoor.
“I’m pretty surprised that I was not nervous a lot. [I felt] almost nothing. For the moment I am really enjoying playing tennis,” Kuznetsov said. “For me there’s obviously no pressure. I did not play for a long time, nobody is probably expecting big results from me for the moment. I’m happy I’m enjoying every time I’m on court and when I play Tuesday against Sam it’s going to be another time I’ll enjoy.
The three-time ATP Tour semi-finalist does not expect the best level of his life right away, but he is certainly excited to be back. Although the past few years have been difficult, he has taken lessons from his experiences. Kuznetsov also did one thing that many can learn from: He never gave up hope.
“I was pretty sure I would come back. I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I thought it might take even longer than three years, that maybe it would take five years,” Kuznetsov said. “I was not sure if after five years I would have motivation to come back because so much time would have passed. Somewhere inside I was hoping and I believed I would be able to come back and it was a question of time.”