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http://espn.go.com/oly/panam2003/s/2003/0807/1592097.html

So you're at Barney's shopping with your best friend Anna Kournikova and you don't even realize you're being photographed. Such is the life of Alex Bogomolov, a Russian-born American tennis player.


Alex Bogomolov hopes to get his ranking into the top 100 by the end of the year.


"I love spending time with my best friend Anna Kournikova," Bogomolov said from the Dominican Republic. "We're best friends. We grew up playing together in Russia and had a fall off because she was playing in the U.S. When I came back from Mexico to Miami we caught up."

Bogomolov said when the pair hang out in Miami, it's no big deal, but whenever they're at a major tournament like the 2002 U.S. Open in New York people notice.

"We were just shopping and I'd never had the experience of paparazzi before," he said "It was pretty cool to see what they made up. They said we were holding hands and kissing, but we were just shopping."

At this year's Australian Open, the Sun Herald of Sydney suggested that while it's acceptable to "pat your partner on the bum every so often" in sports, did Bogomolov have to do it on every point?

But Bogomolov says it's not like that, and in fact, he appreciates the advice he's been given by the former No. 8 player in the world (even if she's never won a WTA title).

"She's helped me tremendously," Bogomolov said. "Last year I was struggling trying to make it on the futures level, and we sat down at her house and she really inspired me. She told me, 'You have to work your ass off.'

"She jumped started it for me. After that I won a couple of futures and one challenger in Pueblo to win the year."

It has been a good year for 20-year-old "Bogey" as he's known. At this time last year he was ranked 243. Since then, he's raised his ranking 126 places to No. 117 and is the No. 2 seed this week at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic.

The Pan Am Games gives him experience on the world stage as he strives to reach his goal of breaking into the top 100 and eventually becoming good enough to be picked by captain Patrick McEnroe for Davis Cup.

His first-round match on Tuesday turned out like a Davis Cup match. Bogomolov found himself up against Viktor Estrella of the Dominican Republic and ranked 865.

"All of us, quite frankly, we'd never heard of the person he was playing," said USTA Pan Am Games coach Eliot Teltscher, a former top five player and former U.S. Davis Cup team member. "The thought was he probably wasn't going to be very good. Ended up the guy was very good. It was a soccer type of atmosphere."

Bogomolov, who plays a baseline style of game but says he's working on his volleys, held up to the pressure and heat quite well. The court reached temperatures over 110 degrees. Meanwhile, the fans had turned out in force to support the hometown guy waving flags, chanting and cheering.

But Bogomolov, who has a tattoo on his arm that says in Chinese characters, "Fear No Man," didn't let that intimidate him. It took three sets but he advanced to the next round and did the same again on Wednesday despite having to borrow a pair of shoes one size too small.

"(Bogomolov's) a great fighter and a great competitor," Teltscher said. "The guys are good. It's going to be a tough week. Maybe a little tougher than expected.

"We're into it already. The guys kind of a got a warning, knowing the guys are all going to be good whether we've heard of them or not."

Bogomolov says he's been really focused since Paris (which also happens to be when he broke up with his girlfriend). He hopes to be ranked at 75 or even 60 by the end of the year. He says he's working on the transition part of his game, knocking away volleys, as the next step to improve his game.

It's a game he almost gave up entirely. His father, Alexander Bogomolov Sr. coached players like Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev. He also was his son's coach but when he quit coaching, Bogomolov Jr. found himself teaching children how to play at the club where his father worked. He was considering going to college at Texas Christian University to follow in his sister's footsteps and study international business and marketing when Francisco Montana noticed him at the club.

"I owe everything to him because he gave me a second chance," Bogomolov said.

Not only did Montana became his coach but also he introduced Bogomolov to New York businessman Jeffrey Himmel who became Bogomolov's sponsor.

"It was a blessing in disguise that I did quit tennis -- that my father kind of left and I didn't have any opportunity set up for me," Bogomolov said. "(Montana) improved my game tremendously and improved my confidence and got me set up with Jeffery Himmel. I owe everything to those two."

After the Pan Am Games, Bogomolov is hoping to get a wild card to the Tennis Masters Series in Cincinnati and by virtue of his appearance at the Pan Am Games will be at the U.S. Open.

His best friend Kournikova won't be out there playing. She's still rehabbing and trying to move a little bit right now, he said.

"We stay in touch every day on the phone and support each other as much as possible," Bogomolov said.

And for those of you thinking he might be able to hook you up with her -- please don't ask.

"They have to talk to her not to me because I can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do," Bogomolov said. "Hopefully, people will start asking her if they can take me out.

"I'm still waiting."

But in the meantime, at least he's not waiting to get back in the game. He's already there.

"Back with a vengeance," Bogomolov said.
 
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