President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation Bulat Utemuratov spoke about the formula of Elena Rybakina’s success at Wimbledon.
– Bulat Zhamitovich, did Elena Rybakina’s excellent performance come as a surprise to you at Wimbledon?
– I am very happy with Elena’s success! She was able to show her bright potential and the highest (best) level of playing in the confrontation with very strong opponents. But it didn’t come as a surprise. Rybakina has been steadily moving towards her best matches and success for a long time: in 2018 she was at the bottom of the second hundred in the world ranking, in 2019 she was already among the top forty, she closed 2020 in the 19th place, in 2021 became the 14th racket of the planet, and this year she was on the 12th line. Such development and movement upward lead sooner or later to legitimate big victories.
– What can you say about Elena’s performance in the final?
– Lena played amazingly, turned the match around, imposed a high pace on her opponent and implemented the game plan. Jabeur fought to the end, and there was a very important game in the third set with the score 3:2, 0:40 on Lena’s serve, where Lena showed real fighting qualities, high concentration and did not allow her opponent to return to the match.
– After the semi-finals, Rybakina emphasised that she was grateful to all the fans for their support – she feels it at every turn. But her special thanks were to you – for coming to London and personally supporting her. Was this a spontaneous decision of yours, or do you always plan to fly and support our players if necessary?
– I always try to watch matches of both our adult players and juniors. Both team and individual performances. Given the large number of matches a year, it’s not always possible to watch everything personally and somewhere I track the results by score, discuss with personal coaches, but at large tournaments, such as Masters and Grand Slams, I am caught up to the maximum, I take great satisfaction in personal communication with players, attendance at training sessions, discussion of issues that concern them. In case of success, I try to come and personally support. When Yaroslava Shvedova, Yulia Putintseva and our other players played important matches, I was there. It was on this Centre Court of Wimbledon that the anthem of Kazakhstan was played and the flag of the country was raised when Yaroslava and Vanya King won the GS in pairs. Last year I was at the finals of the men’s doubles tournament “Roland Garros”, where our Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev performed. This time too, immediately after the quarterfinals where Elena played, I decided to personally support her. It’s a special feeling to be on the Centre Court at Wimbledon in the players’ box, to be able to actively cheer on and encourage the player, which is usually not allowed in the Presidential or Royal boxes. Emotions are simply indescribable.
– What became the key to Rybakina’s successful game at Wimbledon in terms of tennis?
– Elena has been playing great during these two weeks: a powerful serve, a right hand, a stable left hand and moving around the court. Of course, there was great excitement and psychological pressure that she was able to overcome. It is very good that Lena has established a close relationship with the public, her excellent knowledge of English, her activity at press conferences and interviews greatly contribute to her popularity and support from fans.
– But Wimbledon grass court is very specific. Many, even the great players of the past and present, have never been able to achieve anything here in their entire careers.
– Elena is an all-around player. She showed her best results at the Grand Slam tournaments and at the Olympics in 2021 on completely different surfaces: on clay in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, on grass here at Wimbledon and reaching the match for the bronze medal in Olympic Tokyo on hard. The oldest and most prestigious tournament in the world would not be so special if everything was simple – Elena also had no ordinary matches now, despite the fact that she ended them mainly in two games. At the start, a difficult victory over American Coco Vandeweghe 7:6, 7:5. Then difficult games with Canadian Bianca Andreescu – 6:4, 7:6, Chinese Zheng Qinwen – 7:6, 7:5, Croatian Petra Martic 7:5, 6:3. Despite the fact that the quarterfinal against the Australian Ajla Tomljanovic turned out to be three sets, it showed that Elena could fight for the title, and the semifinal with Romanian Simona Halep confirmed this.
– The successful performance of Rybakina attracted the attention of absolutely the entire country. Even the President of the Republic, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, congratulated her on her victory at Wimbledon.
– The head of our state is a person who understands and loves sports, who unfailingly follows the main events in it. He not only understands tennis, but also plays both court tennis and table tennis. You may have seen that recently Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich played table tennis with Turkish President Erdogan. The President of Kazakhstan knows perfectly well that behind the success of every athlete lies a lot of hard work and years of life. Of course, both Elena and the entire tennis community of Kazakhstan were very pleased that the head of the country did not pass by and noted the success of our tennis player, congratulating her on her victory.
– As the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, what do you feel now after the success of Rybakina?
– This is a clear example of how the years of hard work of an athlete, her team, the support of her parents converted into success on the court. Endless flights between tournaments, sleepless nights, many hours of training, hardships in everyday life of a tennis player have paid off. Lena’s strength is also her high intellectual level, hard work and the presence of a strong team around her, including her tennis, physical training and physio coaches, who do everything necessary to bring her into the maximum athletic condition. The Federation created the basic conditions, but behind the victories lies the daily personal work of Lena and her team. It is all this that I have listed that eventually raises the flag of our country at the most prestigious world competitions.
– But Rybakina even wanted to end her career at one time, didn’t she?
– Yes, there was such a period on Elena’s tennis path at the age of 18. But we saw her talent straight off and are very glad that we were able to support her at the right moment, when she really stood on the verge of leaving big-time sports. On our part, the right decision was made – Elena managed to reveal her true champion potential. The support rendered by our Federation at the most important turning point in her sports and human life turned out to be effective, and we are glad that we were able to give her the opportunity to fulfill her potential. With the same systematic career development, Elena has many more bright victories ahead.