KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – Sergei Bubka Jr. has lived his entire existence being called “the great pole vaulter’s son.”
Now, tennis aficionados have begun adding “World No. 1’s boyfriend” to the list.
But if he keeps fighting the way he did Thursday at the Sony Ericsson Open, the affable 25-year-old with the piercing gray-green eyes, shock of brown hair – and wicked serve – will soon be known as “Sergei the tennis player.”
Bubka, a Ukranian who lives in Monaco and is romantically involved with WTA Tour No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, is the son of legendary former world champion and Olympic gold-medal pole vaulter Sergei Bubka.
Sergei Jr., No. 182 in the ATP World Tour rankings, played a strong opening main-draw match at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, defeating 79th-ranked Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-4, 6-4, on a low-profile side court.
Bubka, who turned pro at 16, has never won an ATP tournament and came into the Sony as a wild card with a 0-3 record in 2012 ATP Tour matches.
Unfortunately, Bubka had an unenviable task on Saturday, when he had to play No. 4 seeed Gael Monfils. Bubka lost 6-4, 6-4.
He has finally overcome the remnants of a car accident he had in July 2010, one that left him with a long scar that runs from his hairline diagonally to his left eyebrow.
“I understand how precious life is,” he said. “Tennis is a great part, but it’s not the most important part. It’s much more important to stay healthy and enjoy my time with family and friends.”
Bubka said Azarenka, with whom he has been close since the two were young teenagers, now resides in Monaco and stays with him when they’re both there. They generally don’t obsess about tennis together.
“I think it’s better for our relationship,” he said. “If we speak tennis at home it’s going to be tennis 24-7. That could make you go crazy.”
Bubka said he’s close with his parents. But one day, he figures, people will recognize him, too.
“Until today, people always asked questions about my dad,” he said.
“One day they’ll recognize me for being Sergei Bubka the tennis player.”