Young Kazakhstani tennis players made it to the decisive stage of the World Team Championship
The year of 2022 is becoming a truly breakthrough year for Kazakhstani tennis. First, the men’s team for the third time in a row won the right to play in the final tournament of the Davis Cup (also known as the World Team Championship). Then, for the first time in their history, the girls made their way to the final tournament of the Billie Jean King Cup (also in the status of the World Championship). And now the juniors have followed their example: at the qualifying tournament of the World Championship held in New Delhi, our guys under 14 secured one of the three berths allocated for the Asian region!
So, how was the path of our junior team to the coveted top three developing?
Young teens are playing
The championship of national teams, made up of players not older than 14 years (as of the tournament start), has been held since 1992. And if the first of them was attended by 54 teams, now a good hundred teams are fighting for the right to go to the Czech town Prostejov, which has been hosting the final tournament since 1999. And for sure, there are players in their rosters who will brightly show themselves in adult tournaments as soon as in 3-4 years. Like it has already been done by the first racket of the world Pole Iga Swiatek, American Coco Gauff, Czech Marketa Vondrousova, Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, who helped their countries to win and join the prize-winners of the junior championships.
In recent years, the Asia and Oceania zone was represented in the final tournament by the teams of Australia and Japan, South Korea and Thailand, China and Hong Kong. Moreover, the Koreans in 2011 and 2015 became world champions.
These teams were once again the favorites for the qualifier held in New Delhi, a small but very important part of Delhi’s vast urban conglomerate of over 10 million people. After all, New Delhi, located south of the so-called Old City and planned by Edwin Lutyens, one of the leading British architects of the 20th century, is the official capital of India.
Test of strength
So, 16 teams first determined the top two in each of the four groups, after which this eight, according to the knockout system, determined the three holders of tickets to the World Cup. The national team of Kazakhstan, which included Damir Zhalgasbay (02.21.2008, Almaty), Zangar Nurlanuly (07.04.2008, Turkestan), Daniel Tazabekov (01.08.2008, Shymkent) and the captain (head coach) of the team Sergey Kvak, got into group D – with teams from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
And although the opponents whom we have got at the first stage were not the strongest, one must take into account the extreme weather conditions in which the tournament was held: during the day the shade temperature exceeded +40°C, and there was no relief even in the evening. So, in conditions of extreme dehydration, players having cramps was not uncommon here.
The abnormality of holding the tournament in such conditions was noted even by famous Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who came to support his son Cruz. Although he, who played in two dozen Australian open championships, was no stranger to the heat on the court. The extremely poor air quality and spicy food, which was unusual for our players, also added problems.
We are going to the World Cup!
Having won in all matches of the group stage with the same score of 3-0, our guys reached the Hong Kong team in the quarterfinals. We won again – 2-0 (here the doubles game was not held as it did not matter), but lost to the Koreans in the semi-finals – 1-2.
It should be noted that the first number of Koreans Cho Se Hyuk, who despite his age is quite a tall and powerful guy, already has experience in playing in adult ITF tournaments. So it is no coincidence that in New Delhi he won all 6 singles and 5 doubles. Hence, in the match with us, after Damir Zhalgasbay defeated the second number of the Koreans with a score of 6:3, 6:2, it was Cho who decided the fate of the match, first having defeated Zangar Nurlanuly – 6:1, 6:1, and then, paired with Do Gyeom, having beaten our duo Zhalgasbay/Nurlanuly – 6:4, 6:2. Moreover, it was obvious that the opponents gelled well together which our players were lacking. Maybe that’s because Zangar permanently lives and trains in Slovakia, and Damir – in Almaty (Daniel – in the Czech Republic).
And yet, the Kazakhstanis had a good chance for final success, for which it was necessary to beat the Thai team, which in the other semi-final lost to the Japanese team – 0-2. And here the heroism of Damir Zhalgasbay should be noted: he managed to save two match points and after three hours of the hardest struggle, got over himself to pull out the victory – 2:6, 7:6 (7:5), 7:5. Inspired by this, Zangar simply “wiped out” his opponent – 6:2, 6:1.
2-0 – and for the first time in the history of Kazakhstani tennis we will play in the final tournament of the junior world championship, which will be held from 1 to 6 November. The winners of the qualification were our rivals in the semi-finals, who beat the Japanese with a score of 2-1 in the final.
The Asia and Oceania zone was the first to complete its qualifying round. During May, the finalists from other regions will also be known: two teams will go to Prostejov from Africa and the North and Central America/Caribbean zone, three -from South America, while Europe will have the largest representation – 6 teams.
And what about the other junior teams?
Initially, the qualification tournaments for 14- and 16-year-olds in the Asia and Oceania zone were divided between India and Sri Lanka. However, in March civil disturbances began in this island state, which continues to this day – and New Delhi hosted junior competitions one after another throughout April.
From 4 to 9 April, participants of the Junior Billie Jean King Cup 16 & under fought here. The team led by captain Yaroslava Shvedova and made up of three girls from Almaty – Aya Nupbay, Asylzhan Arystanbekova and Karina Dzhumazhanova – took 5th place. And three lucky tickets to the final part of the World Cup went to the teams of Australia (we lost to it in the quarterfinals), Thailand and Japan.
Girls gave place to guys – in the Junior Davis Cup 16 & under. The national team of Kazakhstan included a resident of Taraz Danir Kaldybekov and two players from Karaganda – Amir Omarkhanov and Vitaliy Zatsepin. Wards of captain Zhansultan Chembotayev were close to getting a ticket to the final tournament, but lost in the match for 3rd place to the Australian team. And the first place was fought for by the teams of India and Japan, the hosts won.
And, finally, in the tournament among girls under 14 years old (ITF World Junior – Tennis Girls 14 & Under), Ariana Gogulina from Nur-Sultan, Satima Toregen from Almaty and Eva Korysheva from Aktobe (team captain – Mukam Ermatov) took 6th place, and three tickets to the same Prostejov were won by the teams of Japan, Australia and South Korea.
The Team Kazakhstan Academy was established back in 2008, a year after the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (KTF) was headed by well-known businessman Bulat Utemuratov. It received a particularly powerful impetus in its development in September 2020, when Briton Dave Miley, who has worked in senior positions at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for more than 25 years, joined the KTF team as an executive director.
At the end of the same year, 36-year-old Timur Akkaziyev became the director of the Academy. His background includes training in tennis at the world-famous Nick Bollettieri Academy, studies at the International Business School at Cumberland University (USA) combined with performances in student tournaments under the NCAA auspices, coaching work with such masters as Romanian Horia Tecau, former world No. 2 in doubles, and Frenchman Fabrice Martin.
It was with their arrival that training camps began to be practiced in an expanded composition – for leading juniors and coaches from all over the country, and not just the Team Kazakhstan Academy. Purposeful preparation for the main team tournaments in junior tennis is backed by a tough internal selection and training camps held immediately before the competition. And what the 14-year-old guys managed to do shows that the KTF is on the right track.