Ball fly almost in a straight line from side to side.
Finland is training in Split on its half day of the Davis Cup finals.
Emil Ruusuvuorithe top name in Finnish tennis singles, bangs the ball in his familiar style: the shots come out as direct missiles and sometimes from the ball already rising.
On the other side of the net is a player who hits the ball back at a consistent tempo.
Not many people know his name.
“It’s absurd to think that I’m participating in the final tournament of the Davis Cup”, says Patrick from Kaukova24.
“Especially when you relate it to how quickly everything has happened. Professionally, this tennis thing has been done for so little time.”
No however, it is not the first time that Ruusuvuori and Kaukovalta splashed the ball together.
According to Kaukovalla’s memories, the two started training in the same groups at the age of 12, when both represented the Helsinki-based Tennis club HVS. From there, the journey continued together Jarkko Nieminen academy for years.
The Espoo native was one of the most talented juniors in Finland in his age group.
It is illustrative that, according to the statistical service TennisÄssä, Kaukova leads Ruusuvuori 3–2 in mutual singles matches.
The most recent victory is as late as spring 2016, when at the age of 17, Kaukovalta knocked out his competitor Ruusuvuore, who was about five months younger, in three sets.
“Is it really like this? I myself only remember one match from the junnu years”, he is surprised by the statistic.
Soon after that, the career paths slowly diverged in different directions.
Ruusuvuori aimed and eventually progressed to become a professional, but Kaukovalta chose otherwise. He decided to go to the United States with a tennis scholarship to study and play tennis.
There were a few different reasons for that.
One was related to finances: in the pursuit of professionalism, expenses would have jumped to completely new dimensions.
Another reason was what Kaukovalta felt inside.
“There is no way I would have been mentally prepared for everything that professionalism and goal-oriented sports require.”
“There is no way I would have been mentally prepared for everything that professionalism and a goal-oriented sports life require.”
Tennis is a mentally exhausting sport.
Every competitive player at the wooden board level knows the pressure that can arise on the field. Uncertainty is slowly creeping into the corners of the mind. Relaxation disappears, after which every stroke is violent.
“There are uncertain moments for every player during a match. Tension and pressure are things that everyone faces,” says Kaukova.
The differentiating factor is how you handle those situations.
“When I was young, I was a really bad player in a competitive situation.”.
He doesn’t mean that he has strained himself out of tournaments in tight spots.
Quite the opposite actually.
“I didn’t have an inner fire for the sport. I wasn’t present on the field.”
It didn’t bother Kaukovalta even in the younger age groups.
“Junnu years were such a game. I was good in the backfield and sure as hell, so I didn’t need to concentrate on the game that much more.”
“Just playing was no longer enough if you wanted to rise to the international level. You had to concentrate on every ball. One would have to travel around the world for a large part of the year to pursue the sport. Life should be like tennis. I wasn’t ready for that.”
A university place in Alabama in the United States seemed like a logical solution.
Kaukopolta would be allowed to continue playing tennis in a high-quality framework. At the same time, he could study what was so important in tennis – human psychology.
“When I was younger, I had used the services of a sports psychologist. I thought that I would like to help others.”
in Split The Finnish team includes educated people: there is a master’s degree in production economics Harri Heliövaaraabut also a bachelor’s degree in sports psychology from Kaukovalta.
Both are now tennis professionals.
The burly Espoo native returned to Finland in 2022 after his studies, and started working as a coach at HVS. During the Corona period, Kaukovalta, which won the outdoor Finnish championships, played in the domestic tennis league.
A turn happened during the year, which the player himself cannot explain.
“That’s a good question, what changed from the situation a few years ago. I know that as a parent it would have upset me if I didn’t try to put everything into tennis even once in my life.”
From afar, Kaukovalta found that he was expressing enthusiasm in a new way.
“I got and still get feelings from competitive situations that don’t come from anywhere else: Whether it was pride from a win, relief or even disappointment after a loss. That’s definitely the most important thing for me in the sport.”
He decided something had to be done.
Kaukovalta is preparing a three-year plan, in the final year of which the ranking should be among the top 300 in the singles world list. The person from Espoo started life as a tennis professional in the spring.
The new life got off to a flying start, as the first ITF-level tournament victory of his career came to his account before the start of the Davis Cup games.
On the field, you can also see a new kind of Kaukovalta – at least if you compare it to the years of your youth.
“The difference is big in how I am present in the game. I think tactically and technically about the game. Those are exactly the things that are required at the international level.”
Perhaps sometime in the future, Kaukovalta, ranking 796, and Ruusuvuori, ranking 57, will meet each other again somewhere other than on the training ground.