Nicola Kuhn made his mark on the professional circuit on Saturday, lifting his first ATP Challenger Tour title at the prestigious Sparkassen Open in Braunschweig, Germany. At just 17 years and 3 months, Kuhn became the second-youngest winner this year and the 14th-youngest in Challenger history.
Moreover, he is the seventh qualifier to lift a trophy in 2017, having reeled off seven wins in eight days to emphatically claim his maiden crown. Kuhn has made the leap to the Challenger level look easy, with Braunschweig marking just his second main draw appearance at the level. He soars 259 spots to No. 242 in the Emirates ATP Rankings with the title.
His immediate success at the professional level should come at no surprise, having earned his first Top 100 scalp earlier this year in Mutua Madrid Open qualifying, stunning Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-5, 6-0.
Kuhn, who was born in Austria, has a German father, Russian mother and resides in Torrevieja, Spain, trained at Juan Carlos Ferrero‘s academy for five years before recently returning to his old coach. Similar to fellow teen Alex de Minaur, he and his family moved to Spain at a young age. Kuhn also has sporting success in his DNA, with his father having claimed a world championship in taekwondo and his mother a figure skater.
The Spaniard spoke to ATPWorldTour.com following his triumph in Braunschweig…
Congratulations Nico. How does it feel to win your first Challenger title?
I think I’m speechless. This is the best week of my life, that’s for sure. I’m just happy that it’s over now and I can rest and prepare for the next tournaments.
It’s been an amazing run to come through qualifying and win seven matches. What went right for you this week?
I think I had a really good fitness preparation. That’s for sure. The day that I had to play two matches was really tough. I tried to do my best all these days and it worked. I played great tennis and I was really mentally tough.
What did you enjoy most about Braunschweig in your first time playing here?
This is a great tournament. And as we know, this is the best Challenger in the world. Everything is amazing, especially the crowd. The courts were fantastic too. It was a pleasure for me to play on the big centre court.
This was just your second Challenger main draw. Did you expect this success to come so quickly?
I was working really hard for it and I hoped to achieve this goal at a young age. I didn’t expect to come from qualies and win the tournament, but as the days passed I really gained a lot of confidence. That helped me a lot to win it.
What are you working on with your coach to even further improve your game?
We’re actually working on everything. Everything has to be better. We are working on my groundstrokes, getting foreward and playing a little more aggressive. Just trying to get all the shots in my game. It’s nothing special, just doing what we always do. Keeping up the rhythm and trying to play solid without making too many mistakes.
You are up more than 200 spots to the Top 250 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. Do you have any goals for the year?
At the beginning of the year, my goal was to reach the Top 200. I’m really close to it now and I’m sure I can achieve it this year. Obviously it would be great to win an ATP [World Tour] tournament, maybe a 250, but this is a little far away. I need to keep on working and enjoy every match that I play.
I like playing on the Challenger Tour because I can compete with these guys, so why not challenge myself? If I can move up the rankings here and get into Australian Open qualifying next year, that is the goal. Even if I lose today or tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. I know I’m at this level. I played well at the Masters 1000 in Madrid and in some [ATP World Tour] 500s. I may lose because of some small details, but not because I don’t have the level.
You recently finished your junior career at Roland Garros, reaching the singles final and winning the doubles title. What did you take from that experience?
It was special for sure. It’s a really nice feeling to get there and it was a little bit unlucky that in two days I had to play five matches. With the weather, it’s one of the toughest tournaments you can have in the year and I think I did well. It was a good result.
Who have been your idols over the years?
Roger Federer, Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. For Becker and Graf, that’s how I started playing tennis. I used to watch them and I asked my dad to buy me a racquet. I was three years old. For Roger, it’s just Roger. All the big matches and Wimbledon titles he’s won.
What did you learn from your time training at Juan Carlos Ferrero‘s academy in Spain?
It’s always special when you can hit with someone like Ferrero and it helps you to improve a lot. Especially my game on clay. You can learn a lot from a former World No. 1 and Roland Garros winner. It’s been a really positive thing for me. I’ve enjoyed playing with him and training at his academy.
With parents from Germany and Russia and being raised in Spain, you seem very cultured. Would you agree?
For sure, I feel I’m very cultured. To be honest, I get bored talking to people my age. I always talk to people that are older than me. I am more mature. In Spain, I like the weather. You can’t beat it. In Germany, they have a little bit of everything here. It’s such a great country. In Russia, I like the food. Let’s be honest. Russia reminds me a lot of my childhood. I used to live there sometimes, so I have great memories.