The strongest players of modern times arrived at the invitation of Bulat Utemuratov, the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation. More than 11 thousand spectators came to see the battle of the titans.
A historical event took place on 24 October 2019 in the capital of Kazakhstan: world tennis legends Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Serb Novak Djokovic met in the court of “Barys Arena” palace. The eternal rivals held a charity match. It was unique as the strongest tennis players of the planet have never before played against each other in the post-Soviet space. From 2016 the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation has been negotiating with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic about holding the charity match in Nur-Sultan. The KTF President, business leader Bulat Utemuratov had a dream of bringing the first and the second rackets of the world to Nur-Sultan to popularise this sport.
“When the invitation came – I immediately agreed, as it’s for long time now that I have been keeping my eye on Kazakhstani tennis and am impressed with how dynamically it’s been developing”, – told Rafael Nadal at the press conference before the start of the game. “It’s a big honour for me to participate in this game as it’s about charity.”
This match of the leading players of modern times in Nur-Sultan is not a commercial project.
“All funds received from the sales of tickets will be used for the development of children’s tennis in the country”, – said Bulat Utemuratov, the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, at the same press conference. “Therefore I am very grateful to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. They did everything possible for this battle to take place in Nur-Sultan. We planned to hold it yet two years ago, but due to the busy schedule of the guys we did not manage to do this then.”
Rafael Nadal noted the merits of KTF President Bulat Utemuratov, with whom tennis in Kazakhstan became available and widely spread.
“Bulat Utemuratov helps developing tennis. He is inspired with this sport and has done a lot. So many tennis courts have been built by him for the recent 12 years!” – emphasised Nadal. “Engagement of children in tennis has increased five times since he stood at the helm of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation. He is a powerful person in ITF.”
A month and a half before the game Bulat Utemuratov was re-elected for the second term as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Tennis Federation, and then he was nominated to the position of the ITF Vice President. Since 2007 he has invested in the development of tennis in Kazakhstan over 60 million dollars. Mainly in the infrastructure development (if about 10 years ago there were 60 courts in Kazakhstan, now there are almost 200), arrangement of tournaments of Futures, Challenger, ITF and ATF series and participation in international Grand Slam competitions. The apogee was famous tennis players coming to Kazakhstan. The visit had several purposes. Charity was not the last but not the main task. The head of the Tennis Federation wanted to show to children engaged in this sport that there was nothing impossible. The game of legendary players should inspire them to new victories. It was with good reason that, before the match, the eminent athletes held a master class for the best little tennis players in the country. One more purpose of the “battle of titans” in Nur-Sultan – popularisation of tennis. Bulat Utemuratov invited the best tennis players of the planet to Kazakhstan so that after their game as many as possible young players would dream to take a racket in their arms and win over the world courts. For the tennis players themselves, this was the 55th meet which became the high-profile sporting event of the year for Kazakhstanis. Fans from Russia, Uzbekistan and China also came to the charity match. The First President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, also attended the exhibition match. And the tennis players performed not half-steam as in a friendly match, but literally snatched the victory from each other. While Rafael Nadal won in the first set with a score of 6:3, then the second set with the same score ended in favour of Novak Djokovic. Due to the equal score, a tie-break was announced. The match was won by Rafael Nadal with a minimum gap of 11:9. Now the Spaniard’s savings box has 27 victories over the Serb with 28 losses.
It is for the sixth time that the national tennis team of Kazakhstan made it to the top division of the Davis Cup. Eighteen strongest teams of the planet met in the final round.
The final round of the Davis Cup took place from 18 to 24 November in Madrid. These are the largest international team competitions in men’s tennis. Matches are held under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation, where the head of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, Bulat Utemuratov, was elected as Vice President in October 2019. This year the Davis Cup changed the format of competitions. Now it is called the World Cup of Tennis Finals. Eighteen national teams were qualified for the World Group, including Kazakhstan, on a par with such tennis powers as the USA, Canada, Spain, Serbia, France and Russia. Kazakhstani tennis players have been taking part in the Davis Cup landmark competitions since 1995, but managed to join the World Group from 2011 only. Experts link this with the development of tennis in the country, the boom of which started when philanthropist and business leader Bulat Utemuratov joined the Tennis Federation. The KTF invited promising legionnaires who more than justified the investment. This is the entire men’s national team: ex-first racket of Kazakhstan Mikhail Kukushkin, the current first racket of the country Alexander Bublik, the strongest players Dmitry Popko, Andrey Golubev and Alexander Nedovesov. They were invited so that the successful tennis players could, while Kazakhstan is raising young cadres, adequately represent our country on world courts. The KTF President has one main goal – to make Kazakhstan a tennis power. Our country is reaching this goal with a solid step. A bright proof of this is the fact that Kazakhstani tennis players placed themselves among the world tennis elite for the sixth time. After all, 10 years ago this seemed hard to achieve. The final tournament of the Davis Cup-2019 included four semifinalists of the previous season (Croatia, the USA, Spain and France) and 12 teams selected according to the results of qualification tournaments. Two more teams received a wild-card from the organisers (Argentina and the United Kingdom). Kazakhstan was among those who successfully qualified, defeating Portugal in Nur-Sultan with a score of 3:1. The Kazakhstani team had to hold the tournament in Group E with the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Each match consisted of two singles and two doubles meetings in the courts of La Caja Magica stadium in Madrid.
“Great Britain is a favourite. The Netherlands – that hard nut to crack, an effort is need to win it over. No one is here just to sell the match easily. Everyone is to be fought with, a good result must be shown. Both teams have amazing players paired. We are in for tough games both in doubles and in singles. We are ready. I am happy and proud that we represent our country here,” said Dias Doskarayev, captain of the Kazakhstan team, at the press conference before the start of the game.
The Tennis Federation brought their fan-group from Kazakhstan to Madrid, and invited the local diaspora and Kazakhstani students studying in the Spanish capital. The fans have been supporting our tennis players throughout all games. Our team was considered a favourite in the battle between Kazakhstan and the Netherlands. The guys did manage to confirm this status. First, Mikhail Kukushkin in a match with Dutchman Botik Van de Zanshulp took the victory in two sets with a score of 6:2. For the second match, Alexander Bublik lost to Robin Haase, but then took revenge in the doubles match together with Mikhail Kukushkin. The Kazakhstanis defeated their rivals Robin Haase and Jean-Julien Rojer with scores of 6:4, 7:6 (7:2). Thus, our team won over the Netherlands in Group E.
“Robin Haase and Jean-Julien Rojer were defeated because Kukushkin and Bublik played an amazing match. This is especially true about Mikhail. He was great in serving and returning. It was that physically and psychologically Kukushkin was ready for all 100%. And Alexander proved that he rightfully held a high place in the world ranking. His first serves are incomparable,” commented on the victory of the Kazakhstanis the Dutch national team captain, Paul Haarhuis.
The next rival in the group – the UK team, which was fortified before the tournament with a legendary player – ex-world No 1 Andy Murray. With his return to the court after an injury, the British team broke through to the favourites of the group. Mikhail Kukushkin played the first singles match against Kyle Edmund. The battle ended in favour of the Brit. The second singles turned out to be in favour of Kazakhstan: Alexander Bublik took over Daniel Evans in two sets. However, in the group match the Kazakhstani tennis players lost to the strongest pair of the planet – Jaimie Murray and Neal Skupski. Thus, our team won the second place in Group E of the Davis Cup 2019.
“Kazakhstan is a young republic where tennis just started developing. The Davis Cup participants are countries with multi-century histories. For instance, the UK has been participating in the tournament since 1900. Kazakhstan has been in the top division of the Davis Cup among the strongest national teams for many years now. This should be appreciated,” Dias Doskarayev commented on the second place.
It was not a defeat, but it was a tough battle. Our tennis players did their best, but the rivals were stronger. The national team of Kazakhstan once again created the history of the Kazakhstani tennis. Now it will have to repeat its success in the match with the Dutch team next year to qualify for the final round of the Davis Cup 2020. The match will be held on 6-7 March in Nur-Sultan.
Bulat Utemuratov’s Charity Foundation allocated 850 million tenge to build houses in Arys for people who lost their homes after the series of ammunition explosions in July 2019, and for the needy multi-child families, orphans, disabled, lonely elderly people.
Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation was among the first to respond to the tragedy in Arys when all residents of the town had to be evacuated after explosions at the military base. Ammunition rounds damaged over 7 thousand buildings (90%), about 500 houses were recognised as a total loss, thousands of people were left without a home. After this emergency, Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation, jointly with the Red Crescent, issued aid cards to the victims. Two thousand people received in total 60 million tenge. This money helped people to survive through the hardest days of the crisis and to buy essential commodities. The programme of rendering aid to Kazakhstanis affected by emergencies was first launched by Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation after floods in various regions of Kazakhstan. The next step was construction in Arys of 50 duplex houses for two owners for those who lost their houses. The first lines of the list of housing recipients were 34 families who previously lived in barracks near the military base. This barrack was affected the most because of its location close to the explosion source. The building was completely destroyed; therefore, the former inhabitants of the barrack were put in the list of recipients the first.
“Other 66 families are local residents of socially vulnerable categories: multi-child and needy families, single mothers, orphans, disabled”, – told Programme Manager of Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation Dana Dzhaksylykova.
100 families received 50 duplex houses in fine finish. Each of them has two spacious light rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a refrigerator and a gas stove. Each house has 10 ares of land. Roads and sidewalks in the microdistrict were asphalted, playgrounds were installed, pine tree alleys were planted. It is not for the first time that Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation builds houses for the needy families. The “Balameken” project, that is translated from Kazakh as the abode of children, was first launched in spring 2019 to provide social support for Kazakhstanis who were in need of housing. Under this project, Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation built houses for multi-child families in the Kzylorda Oblast. 50 duplex houses were designed for 100 families. The founder allocated 450 million tenge for this construction.
“Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation was set up to improve the life of Kazakhstanis and it pursues this mission from the moment of its establishment. The founder, Bulat Utemuratov, decided to take an active part in solving housing problems of Kazakhstanis. We could not stay on the sidelines and thought we had to help people”, – noted then Almaz Sharman, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Bulat Utemuratov’s Foundation.
The charity foundation was set up in 2014 at the initiative of philanthropist and businessman Bulat Utemuratov. The founder has been providing a regular financial support of projects in healthcare, education and culture. The Foundation also helps Kazakhstanis affected by natural disasters and man-caused emergencies. Over 900 million tenge were allocated for the organization of assistance to the Arys people only.
Team Kazakhstan is the first tennis academy for promising children in Kazakhstan. It is not just professional sports training, but also advanced learning of English and school subjects. The best students can enter prestigious foreign universities. This is the story of how the once elite sport became widespread and how ordinary Kazakhstani children are trained to be court champions.
The idea to develop court tennis in Kazakhstan belongs to businessman Bulat Utemuratov. In 2007 he took the charge of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, and a year later set up the Team Kazakhstan Tennis Academy in Nur-Sultan. This is a unique school where promising teenagers are selected to be trained for the professional sports. For the success in court tennis depends not only on physical condition but also on the time spent on the court. The more time spent, the higher are chances to bring up champions. Therefore, in 2008 the academy started selecting 12-17-year old teenagers, and later – younger children too.
What the tennis academy is like
Team Kazakhstan is a symbiosis of a sports school and a gymnasium for talented children. It is not only the court and the gym, it is a big campus where children live in boarding school settings. But the academy has nothing to do with that boarding school as many imagine it. It’s a modern building where students train with the leading world professionals. They are provided with comfortable accommodation, five meals daily, medical services, social adaptation.
“We try to envisage everything: psychology, catering, physical training, progress in studies”, – tells Dias Doskarayev, Vice President of the Tennis Federation. “We want children to have achievements not only in tennis, they also must be progressing in their studies. If a child is successful at school, he/she is also successful in sports. We are frosty about children dropping out of studies and missing their classes. There is a stereotype: if someone is an athlete, that means the person was not good enough for anything else, however, our students are successful people – not only in the sports, but in the life too.”
Days in the academy are mapped out to the hour:
wake-up, morning procedures;
classes or a training session;
classes or a training session;
The schedule helps keeping the discipline, which, in turn, instils in children self-sufficiency and responsibility – important qualities of a successful person.
Why the academy students study English in depth
The students used to study in the gymnasium classes of gymnasium school No 17 named after Akan Kurmanov with a linguistic bias. This year teachers are invited to the academy to teach English and Russian, and literature. Why is the emphasis put on linguistics? Because a child, engaged in tennis, enters the environment where everyone speaks English: at training camps abroad, at international competitions. Tennis is not a team sport. A tennis player is on his own on the court. He must be able to reply to the judge or to challenge a decision in English. By the way, as tennis is an individual sport, a child becomes independent earlier. Even when the game is being played on the court, the rules prohibit any tips to be given by the trainer, thus the player learns to take decisions independently. Training at school is just the first stage. The best tennis players are invited by prestigious foreign universities to play for the university and their education expenses are covered. The cost of education at an American university, for example, is USD 20,000 a year. Students are trained by both local trainers who took courses abroad, and by invited professionals.
“In 2009 we invited famous Dutch professional Eric van Harpen as the chief trainer. He is one of the most renowned tennis professionals in the world”, – says Team Kazakhstan Academy Director Zhanbolat Zhakupov. “The same year we invited leading world professional Mecislav Boguslavsky from Poland to be the chief trainer for general and special physical training of tennis players.”
Team Kazakhstan invited to cooperate famous tennis academies of international renown. Thanks to this, the students train and have meets in Spain, the US, China and Turkey. Currently the academy has been re-organised into Team Kazakhstan combined teams and has 32 sportsmen of the first-string and reserve rosters.
What results were achieved by Team Kazakhstan for 11 years
The Team Kazakhstan students became professional tennis players, they take part in such prestigious competitions as the Davis Cup, international ITF series tournaments, world and Asian championships. They include: bronze medalist of the Youth Asian Games Dmitry Popko; 21st racket of the world under 18 years Dostanbek Tashbulatov; silver medalist of the Asian Games Denis Yevseyev; repeated winner of the ITF series tournament Grigoriy Lomakin; the third racket of the world under 18 years Anna Danilina; Kazakhstan’s first racket under 18 years Zhibek Kulambayeva.
“The male team has entered the top-8 in the Davis Cup – that is very prestigious, high-status and pleasing”, – emphasises Dias Doskarayev. “But we are twice happier when our children perform. A big number of children under 12 years got award-winning places in European tournaments. These are Aiya Nurbay, Karina Dzhumazhanova, Zhanel Ospanova, Maxim Batyutenko, Yerasyl Yerdilda, Sandugash Kenzhibayeva, who excel in tournaments in Germany, France, Indonesia. They won the third place in the Asian Championship in the team rating. We have never had such success before.”
For the first time in the history of Kazakhstani tennis, Team Kazakhstan students Sandugash Kenzhibayeva and Yerasyl Yerdilda will go to the most prestigious tournament among children in France. Les Petits As – an unofficial world championship for children under 14 years – in 2020 will take place in Tarbes. They were not simply invited – they passed through the qualification selection during competitions in Indonesia.
How elite sport became widespread in Kazakhstan
In 2007, before Bulat Utemuratov took the charge of the Tennis Federation, this sport was perceived as an elite one. A little bit more than 500 people were engaged in it throughout the country. These were amateurs and youngsters who could afford renting an expensive court and lessons with a trainer. For the recent 12 years, tennis has turned from the posh sport into the wide-spread one. This was made possible thanks to the infrastructure set up throughout entire Kazakhstan. In 2007 the Tennis Federation developed a five-year programme which was agreed by the President of the country. Then this strategy was renewed every next five years.
“One of the components of tennis development is the infrastructure”, – says Dias Doskarayev. “In the first instance, it was necessary to make it accessible for masses so that children would have opportunities to engage in this sport all over Kazakhstan, to train both at the amateur and professional levels. This is also needed for making the nation healthier. Therefore, all the groundwork was done for children so that they could practice tennis systematically, so that they would look at tennis as at a sport of the highest achievements”.
The Tennis Federation built new courts all over Kazakhstan. If in 2007 there were 60 courts, now there are over 270. In Almaty, in the Bostandyk District, where courts were lacking, the Tennis Federation built the “Ace” centre. This is 10 outdoor and indoor courts, a gym, a cafeteria, teaching resource rooms for tennis players.
“There are about 320,000 people living in the Bostandyk District. Therefore, it was important for us to cover this area”, – explains the Vice President of the Tennis Federation. “Currently the centre is attended by 507 children. Under the same project, the Akimat of Almaty has already selected a site in the Alatau District near the Almaty Arena for a similar tennis centre.”
In Nur-Sultan, in Momyshuly Street, a tennis centre of 14 courts is being built under a Canadian project. According to the authors’ design, it will have 8 courts inside, 6 courts outside and two gyms. In Shymkent, the National Tennis centre increased the number of indoor courts up to 18. A hotel was built next to it for teams coming from all over Kazakhstan. A classroom was also provided there so that children would not lag behind their studies during meets and training. In Aktobe and Petropavlovsk, a tennis centre was built under the public-private partnership programme.
“Aktobe is the city where one tennis centre will be followed by the second one”, – comments Dias Doskarayev. “This proves that there is high interest and demand in this sport. When we open a tennis centre, we try to have it built in compliance with the latest technologies, requirements and world standards, so that it could be used not only for training children, but for holding international tournaments too.”
In Karaganda and Aktau, construction of the second in count tennis centres is also starting.
“We see that tennis becomes so popular that we have no time to build”, – confesses our interlocutor. “Every year we launch two-three tennis centres, but the number of courts grows slower than the number of children. This is an uneasy burden of the Tennis Federation President, Bulat Utemuratov, who has to negotiate with regions, akimats (local administrations), get many approvals, search for funds, and incur substantial expenses. For example, the “Ace” Tennis Centre in Almaty cost USD 5.7 million. This is a lot of money, but children want to play tennis, and we satisfy this need.”
The Federation plans to build additional training centres in Lisakovsk, Kostanay, Taraz, Shymkent, in the Turkestan Oblast. Large-scale construction of new courts resulted in the reduction in tennis court rentals throughout Kazakhstan. If at the dawn of the “noughties” an hour of the game cost 50 dollars, currently the price has fallen down 10 times and is on average two-three thousand tenge. Now tennis can be played not only by businessmen and bankers but by all comers. In total, over seven thousand people are engaged in tennis in Kazakhstan.