Skupski brothers hope to gatecrash tennis Grand Slams
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The Liverpool International will be the launchpad for a local double act which is hoping to gatecrash the Grand Slam scene in world tennis.
Liverpool’s Davis Cup star Ken Skupski is ready to team up with younger brother Neal this summer – and together the Mossley Hill duo believe they can quickly climb the world rankings.
“Grand slams is the goal,” said Ken, 30.
“We would have to do something significant this year to have a good opportunity to play all the big tournaments next year, so I would say it’s more or less unlikely that we’ll get to play in Australia.
“But we could be in a situation where, 12 months from now, we could be playing in the French Open together – and Wimbledon for sure because we are British and would have a good chance of a wild card.
“We are working hard to get our ranking up as soon as possible. Fortunately I’m already at a high rank so I can get Neal into bigger events that he wouldn’t necessarily get in to against a player of a similar ranking.
“But it’s going to take a lot of hard work.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see and play it week-by-week, month-by-month and see where were at.”
Ken, in action at the French Open this week with doubles partner Xavier Malisse, currently boasts a ranking of 69, while 23-year-old Neal – who has just finished a four-year scholarship at Louisiana University in the USA – has yet to break the top 500.
But the pair believe that could change swiftly.
“We’ve always had the intentions of playing doubles for a very long time,” said Ken “but the only problem was our age because there’s such a wide difference.
“But we’re at the stage now where Neal is finishing his college career, his ranking will start to go up pretty drastically which is good and I’m sort of in between at the moment because I’ve split with my doubles partner in March.
“I’m not exactly in limbo, but in a position where I can make a choice about what I want to do.
“So once the grasscourt season is out of the way this summer we’re going to try and play a lot more together and hopefully be in a position next year to try all the tournaments together.”
The greatest doubles partnership in world tennis are brothers – the renowned Bryan brothers – while John McEnroe played with brother Patrick and Andy Murray has partnered brother Jamie many times.
“If you look at the Bryans and the McEnroe brothers, they’ve all got this advantage of knowing more about their partner than the average person,” added Ken.
“We do enjoy playing together. It’s going to be difficult to get up there as quickly as we’d like – but we’ve already played two tournaments and won them both!
“We used to play together at Palmerston Tennis Club and played in a league there for a couple of years until he went off to University. We played 15 matches and won 14 so we’ve got a good record to defend!”
The brothers are also more temperamentally suited for top level tennis than they were then.
“We used to argue a lot,” smiled Ken. “We were really bad. We never used to practice together because Neal was always very talented but didn’t want to listen.
“I just wanted to work hard because I had less ability.
“But we’re good now.
“It’s a job now, a way of making money and the best chance we have of that is by working together as a team and then everyday we can improve.”
Neal is improving dramatically – and is now very keen to learn.
“I’ve improved definitely,” he explained. “When I went to Louisiana when I was 18 I hadn’t played much tournament tennis, but there I was training everyday, playing matches every week.
“I’ve progressed since day one.
“I do look up to Ken. He helps me out on court whenever we’re playing together and he’s definitely the leader when we’re playing doubles together.”
Now Neale will have the guiding hand of his big brother to help him continue that progress.
And Ken already has an outstanding doubles experience to pass on.
In June 2009 Ken and his then doubles partner Colin Fleming upset the world number one ranked Bryan brothers at the Queen’s Tournament in London.
“I’ve played them four times now and I was fortunate to beat them the first time,” he explained. “You appreciate how good they are the more you play against them and they are unbelievable players and they are the best – I think – of all time.
“There’s a lot of things we can take from them, that we can hopefully mould our doubles into.
“Last year was a fantastic year for me
“But it’s family now so I’m going to go out of my way to try and help him in the best possible way.
“It’s a great experience. We just didn’t know when it would start but it is getting more exciting now because it is getting closer so we can do it a bit more full-on.”
The first public airing of the new doubles partnership will be at Calderstones Park.
And both can’t wait.
“The schedules worked out great for me,” said Ken. “I’m going to be back in action at Calderstones which I always look forward to.
“It’s always nice to come home, especially with having a family now so the more time I can spend at home the better. And to be able to play with my brother is great.”
Neal added: “I’m really looking forward to it. I remember being a ball boy there in the first year, then I was a line judge and I progressed to playing there.
“Now I’m playing alongside my brother there. It should be great.”