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Bubka, Jr are poles apart

Melbourne: He lost his first match and did not even try to jump the net but there was no escaping the spotlight for the skinny teenager with the famous father at the Australian Open on Monday.

While most first round losers in the junior boys competition normally just stroll out of the Melbourne Park gates unnoticed, things were a little more hectic for 15-year-old Sergey Bubka.

As the son of one of the world’s greatest ever athletes, the former Olympic and world champion pole vaulter who bears the same name, media interest in the 15-year-old’s first appearance at a Grand Slam event was guaranteed.

There was not a single spectator at his match against Romanian Florin Mergea but it was still standing room only at court 13, where a small army of reporters, photographers and television crews had assembled.

Bubka lost the match 6-2, 7-6, which was no real surprise as Florin is two years older and already one of the best junior players in the world, but nobody was interested in the winner.

While Mergea wandered back to the locker room, Bubka began the first of a round of interviews that would fill up the rest of his day.

He completed a series of radio and television interviews in half a dozen languages then proceeded to the large press conference room.

“I’m used to it, people have been coming up to me for years and saying ‘you’re the son of a famous father,’” he said. “It’s a little strange but I’m used to it. I just wish one day it will be about me.”

While there is no mistaking the physical resemblance between father and son, Bubka said he never planned to follow his father into pole vaulting.

“I tried it once, just for fun, but I’ve always liked tennis more. I want to be a professional tennis player,” he said. He began playing tennis at age seven and within two years he was already good enough to beat his father.

One of his coaches is Bob Brett and his favourite player is Marat Safin. Although his career is just beginning, the early signs are good and he is steadily climbing up the junior rankings.

He finished last year ranked 225th but has moved to 157th after successfully making it through the qualifiers to earn a start in the Australian Open.

He was too young to see his father win gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics but was in Athens in 1997 when he won his sixth and final world championship.

“That was the most memorable moment for me. He was injured all year and it was his first competition back and he won the world championship.”

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