Bogomolov making headlines on and off court
Alex Bogomolov Jr. is making the most of his belated arrival in the limelight.
After a mostly mediocre career, the 28-year-old put together the best results of his life last season, rising from outside the top 100 to No. 33 in the rankings to be voted by his peers as the most improved player in 2011.
But it isn't just his tennis that's attracting attention at the Australian Open.
In November, he announced that he wanted to play for Russia, the country of his birth, instead of the United States, where he had lived and trained since 1992.
The switch was approved by the International Tennis Federation in December and this is the first Grand Slam he has played under the Russian flag.
Bogomolov is set to make his Davis Cup debut for Russia in a first-round match against Austria next month. He then can apply for acceptance to play at the Olympics later in the year.
Just one problem: after supporting Bogomolov through his development, the United States Tennis Association wanted compensation. In December, the USTA received a check for $75,000.
''They invested their time and their finances in me. I think it was only right for me to pay them back,'' Bogomolov said Tuesday after his straight-set win over Daniel Gimeno-Traver. ''It's a big load off my shoulders. Everything is peaceful. Everything is good.''
That wasn't the case on the eve of the Australian Open when Bogomolov sparked a mini-drama by tweeting: ''A players strike here at the Australian Open?? YES SIR!!''
A player stoppage at the first Grand Slam of the year never looked close to happening. Yet Bogomolov's tweet, which followed a player meeting on Saturday, was a real indication of a concerted push by the players to force changes to the tour.
''As far as the tweet, I was very excited as far as how the players were united. I've never been to a meeting like that before in my life,'' Bogomolov said. ''I know all these guys for 12 years already. The way everybody is sticking by each other, the way everybody is on the same page, is inspiring.''
Talk of a player strike also cropped up a few months ago, with several top players unhappy about the length of the season. Prize money at Grand Slam tournaments is another top issue, with the players set to meet again in March to decide on a course of action if there has been no progress.
Bogomolov, who sees himself as an elder statesman of the men's tour, is happy to carry on being a spokesman for players' rights.
''I'm 28 years old, I'm trying to sort of improve the game for the younger generation that's coming up, for the fans, for the tournaments,'' he said. ''I'm at the end of my career. We're trying to make it better for the guys coming up.''
He may be close to the end of his career, but Bogomolov is only just reaching his peak after coming through a couple of rocky periods early on. In 2005, he sat out a 1 1/2 month ban for ingesting a banned substance contained in an asthma treatment. The following year, his two-year marriage to former WTA professional Ashley Harkleroad ended in divorce.
Back in Melbourne where he failed the anti-doping test seven years ago, Bogomolov is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam and through to the second round.
''At 28 years old, it's kind of surreal,'' Bogomolov said. ''But it's very exciting.''