- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - It was after an early exit at the 2003 Australian Open junior tournament that the younger, tennis-playing Sergei Bubka truly understood what a big deal the older, pole-vaulting Sergei Bubka _ his father _ is.

“I was 15. I lost in the first round. And there was a really big press conference. … We had to move to the main interview room,” he said. “It was all because of my father.”

The 24-year-old Bubka, who bears a strong resemblance to Dad, won his Grand Slam main-draw debut Tuesday at the U.S. Open by beating Austria’s Andreas Haider-Maurer 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

He entered the U.S Open ranked 207th and needed to win three matches in qualifying to get into the field at a major tournament for the first time. Next up is a second-round match against 11th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, who was the runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open and reached the Wimbledon semifinals last month.

Bubka’s father won a gold medal in the pole vault at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and still owns the outdoor and indoor world records for the event that he set in the 1990s. The elder Bubka was re-elected last week as a vice president of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, and followed his son’s match by checking the scores online from South Korea, where his sport’s world championships are being held.

They spoke on the telephone after the tennis match.

“He’s very happy that I am improving, that finally I broke through this step,” the son said. “Hopefully, I’ll go further.”

The best advice his father ever passed along?

“He always says that if you can beat yourself, you can beat anyone _ because you often fight with yourself. Sometimes, it’s hard to get up in the morning and make yourself work, but you have to push yourself,” the younger Bubka explained.

He said his father was pleased to see him choose a sport other than pole-vaulting so they wouldn’t always be compared. Still, it can be tough to share his famous father’s name, although he made clear he doesn’t wish he had another.

Time after time, that’s what people want to talk about. Sometimes, after a tough loss, Bubka said, he’ll think to himself: “Leave me alone, please. I’m just a regular guy.”

During the victory over Haider-Maurer, Bubka occasionally felt his ears popping, which he figured might simply have been a result of nerves _ or could have been connected to the injuries he got in a traffic accident in July 2010. Heading to the airport after losing his second match at a lower-tier Challenger Tour event in Canada, Bubka was riding in the back seat of a car that collided with a truck, he said.

He hurt his neck, was left with a scar from 14 stitches in his forehead, and has dealt with headaches and dizziness in the aftermath. Bubka tried to return to tennis in August 2010, but lost in qualifying at a tournament in New Haven, Conn., then in qualifying at the U.S. Open, before sitting out until November.

The best part of Bubka’s game is his serve: He hit 25 aces Tuesday and was broken only once. He said he hit a 156 mph (252 kph) fault during a qualifying match at Montreal this month; if that serve had landed in, it would have matched the mark for the fastest on record.

“I have a big serve, so I build my game around that,” said Bubka, who was born in _ and represents _ Ukraine, but moved to Monte Carlo when he was 7.

Nowadays, he feels as confident as ever about his tennis and says his immediate goal is to pull his ranking up into the top 100.

And eventually, he hopes, he’ll make a name for himself in his sport.

“Everybody, every week, asks me: ‘Oh, are you the son of the famous pole vaulter?’ I just hope that I will continue improving,” he said, “and that I will be known (as) ‘Sergei Bubka the tennis player,’ not ‘the son of the great pole vaulter.’”



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