“You don’t really get a chance to take a step back and understand the magnitude of what you’ve just achieved“
Liverpool tennis star Ken Skupski has chosen to take a few weeks off following his maiden ATP Tour 500 win at the Mexico Open.
Having been professional since 2001, his career has reached the 20-year mark and he topped it off with a career best performance.
Partnered by his younger brother Neal, the pair took out some world class names on their way to the title, including fellow Brit Jamie Murray.
Victory in Acapulco was the brothers’ maiden ATP Tour 500 win as a pair and the 37-year-old from Liverpool has been reflecting on what was a brilliant tournament.
Whilst Ken is currently residing at home, Neal chose to go out and play the Miami Open following the win in Mexico, partnering Britain’s Number One singles player Dan Evans.
“It’s always an interesting one with tennis with how the circuit works, when you win a tournament you almost have to go straight into the next one which is obviously what Neal’s done.
“You don’t really get a chance to take a step back and understand the magnitude of what you’ve just achieved.”
Sport is often a long and tumultuous journey for any athlete to gain success and recognition.
Turning professional in 2001, it’s taken Ken Skupski 20 years to earn a title of this magnitude.
Having first reached the top 50 in 2009, he’s played with multiple partners and achieved success mainly at the ATP Tour 250 level throughout his career.
His partnership with his younger brother Neal has been an ‘on and off’ affair since around 2013 and the pair have won titles across the ATP Tour, ATP Challengers and ITF Futures events.
“It was a nice feeling to share it with my brother, I don’t think anything can compare to it.
“I’ve played with many different partners and had success with different people but it doesn’t compare to having the same success with your brother.
“All the effort my parents, my wife and all the effort everyone goes through day in, day out dealing with the ups and downs of the tennis world, to get that big win made it extra special.”
When you win a big title with your brother after reuniting this year.
Congratulations to Ken and Neal Skupski in Acapulco. pic.twitter.com/SgA2nT9s0E
— David Law (@DavidLawTennis) March 21, 2021
In terms of a week in the sport, it’s one unlike the pair have ever shared together before.
To beat the calibre of opponents that they did to take home a maiden ATP Tour 500 title, the first for Ken, has seen the tournament chart right to the the top of Ken’s career highlights.
“When I was flying back I was actually thinking about that, because when you do well in Grand Slams it’s great because they’re obviously the biggest tournaments of the year.
“But if you make it to a quarter final in them there’s no euphoria about winning, it’s like you advance to the next round you only go so far, but when you win a tournament it’s the instant moment of gratification of winning something quite big.”
They triumphed over some of the best pairs in the world on their route to victory; this included the likes of Bruno Soares/Jamie Murray, Joe Salisbury/Rajeev Ram and the world number ones Robert Farah/Juan Sebastian Cabal.
One thing all those pairs have in common is they’ve all won grand slam titles, some of them multiple times too whilst Ken has never made it past the quarter final stage.
“I don’t think I’ve played a tournament where I’ve beaten these calibre of players back to back, so its obviously nice. We’ve beaten good pairs before obviously but not back to back like we have here.
“To come back day after day and win and win with different match styles and tactics and keep that high level of performance is incredibly satisfying for us.
“I only feel like I was capable of doing that with Neal because he understands me and I know him so well.”
Their relationship as a pair has reached an all time high with this victory but, before this tournament their future was highly uncertain.
As mentioned, the pair have had an intermittent partnership for eight years.
But unlike all the great pop groups in history that have gotten back together, the pair managed to come back to an even greater effect than before.
“The calibre of opponents we played this week, the fact it was Neal and I back together, it all came together and made it that extra special for the both of us.
“I don’t think either of us expected to play together again and I had sort of resigned myself as to that’s the way its going to go.
“But I’m chuffed to bits that we’ve got back together and it’s obviously its made it more special to go and achieve something we haven’t achieved before.”
A tournament win is clearly the best sign that both of their short term futures at the top level belong with each other.
Being brothers, playing together is effortless and the only issue is making sure their individual rankings stay as high as possible.
This is to allow for a higher ranking as a pair when they do partner up for the bigger tournaments and grand slams down the line.
“Playing with Neal is where I am in my comfort zone, as being brothers we know each other so well that we can slot back in.
“I think fundamentally winning matches breeds confidence, obviously playing together is key but winning matches really helps to get that traction as a pair.
“In theory, it’s not ideal to not play together every week, but there’s obviously a lot of players that do that as well, its only really the top 12 who consistently play together.
“They’re always ranked high enough to play together so everyone else is kind of mixing and matching to bridge the gap.
“But we will always play together a week before a Grand Slam to give us that match practice to feel comfortable together.”
After the win, it’s forced Ken to re-evaluate his goals for the year.
With three grand slams left in the year and new lease of life for the pair, the next few months have suddenly been blessed with great potential.
“When you have a win like that you have to take a step back and think, is that a one off? Or is this something we can really build on.
“It wasn’t like we were given the tournament by beating lower opposition, it was these top pairs and players so I don’t see the reason why we can’t have a good run at a Grand Slam.”
With personal goals and goals as a pair, the overriding task hasn’t changed for the Skupski brothers.
Even though he did set himself the target of reaching the top 30 in the world, something he hasn’t done before.
His highest ranking was 44 back in 2010; he currently sits 47 in the world 11 years later.
Although, the target remains taking the tournament winning form they showed in Mexico and translating that into a future grand slam.
“That’s always the aim, but there is definitely a chance to go and do so now.
“Especially with Wimbledon, which is a tournament we love the most, but we’ve actually had the best success on Clay Courts when we last played together compared to Grass, so there’s no reason why we can’t go and do well at Roland Garros.
“It actually plays faster than Wimbledon at some points. Which can really play into our favour because we like fast tennis, and we’ll see how things go – going deep into a grand slam would obviously be great and we have 3 opportunities from now until the end of the season to do so.
“But my goal personally would be to crack to the top 30 in the world, and if I did that, Neal wouldn’t be far off cracking the top 15, with the number of points, but we set our targets high and we’ll see how it goes.”
What about the future? At 37, it may seem that he’s coming towards the end of his career, however it is a sport that does lend itself to a more lengthy career in comparison to Football for example.
Being a professional for over 20 years does take its toll especially with the long periods of time away from home and from friends and family.
Although, he doesn’t currently have as hectic a schedule to what he would have had at an earlier stage in his career.
He doesn’t need to as long as Neal continues to compete at the higher levels, with different partners on a more regular basis.
However, like every good athlete, debating retirement takes careful consideration from listening to the body as well as the mind.
“I’ve got a wife and three kids so I’ve got to be more open minded with being away for weeks at a time and travel restrictions and isolation and all that, but I’m just taking it year by year and not looking too far ahead.
“We review life at the end of each year, but at the moment I’m enjoying the victory and we’ll plan the near future and not get too ahead of ourselves.
“I’ll get to the end of the year and I’ll assess how I feel fitness wise and if I’m still enjoying the game too and if I can still compete and if all that feels good then I’ll carry on competing.”