A sensational performance of the Kazakhstan National under 14 boy’s team at their debut ITF World Junior Team Championships made a huge impact. For the first time the team qualified for the 16 team final and showed their quality by making it into the top four in the world beating strong teams from top tennis Argentina, Italy and Slovenia. The result demonstrated clearly that Kazakhstan has many young tennis players born and growing up playing tennis in Kazakhstan coming through that are ready to compete with the best from even the top tennis nations.
After Elena Rybakina’s victory on Wimbledon there were some articles published suggesting that the players playing successfully for Kazakhstan were not originally from Kazakhstan. They questioned what the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (further referred to as the Federation) were doing to develop young players that can in the future represent Kazakhstan at the top professional tennis events. They wanted to know what is the structure of player development in Kazakhstan and what is the Federation doing to develop tennis there.
The press service of the KTF asked Bulat Utemuratov, the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation to answer these and other questions.
– Mr. Bulat Utemuratov, congratulations on another success of Kazakhstan tennis: The 14 and under boys team of Zangar Nurlanuly, Daniel Tazabekov and Damir Zhalgasbay were so close to being ITF World Under 14 Team champions and lost close matches in the last two days to Germany and USA to finish in fourth place, just one place away from thebronze medals of the World Championship. A fantastic week?
– I’m glad that the guys were real fighters and played as a solid team, where every player contributed a lot to this historic achievement. The opponents in the tournament were very strong and every match required maximum concentration and dedication. Players were able to show the whole world the power of Kazakhstan tennis. This result was made possible thanks to the hard work of the players and the coaching team: Sergey Kvak team captain, Dmitriy Kostetskiy team fitness coach and Timur Akkaziev the head of the delegation, as well as the continued support and participation of their parents and coaches, without whose attention this great success would not be impossible. This achievement demonstrates a certain stage of maturity of Kazakhstan tennis, where our juniors at 14 and under and 18 and under already occupy a high place in the world tennis elite.
– The recent success of Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon has stirred up the topic related to inviting players from abroad to represent Kazakhstan. Can you finally close the chapter on it and the reasons this was done at the time?
There were several waves of players deciding to move to Kazakhstan. The first group included Yuriy Schukin, Yaroslava Shvedova, Andrey Golubev, and Mikhail Kukushkin. Without each of them our National Teams would not have been able to make a rapid breakthrough from the lower divisions of Davis Cup and Fed Cup to the world group of these competitions. They became a good example for several generations of young Kazakh players – Zarina Diyas, Timur Khabibulin, Kamila Kerimbayeva, Zhibek Kulambayeva, Denis Yevseyev, Beibit Zhukayev and other top Kazakh juniors currently competing at junior Grand Slams, on what they need to do and how hard they need to work on and off the court to be successful in the difficult work of a professional tennis player and how to defeat high level opponents from other nations.
Yuriy Schukin, ending his career as a player of the National Team, became its Davis Cup captain. Yaroslava Shvedova wrote her name in history books of international and Kazakhstan’s tennis by winning the Grand Slam doubles tournaments of Wimbledon and the US Open and by performing for Kazakhstan at the Olympic Games three times. After finishing her playing career, she also became the captain of the Women’s National team. Both Schukin and Shvedova actively pass on their experience at junior training camps to our new generation of coaches and players. There are also simple human stories: Yaroslava created her family here by meeting her husband in Nur-Sultan as did Andrey Golubev, whose wife, Meruert, is from Petropavlovsk. Both Golubev and Kukushkin are still the main players of our national team, without whose contribution the results of Kazakhstan’s tennis would not have grown to the current levels. These original players and a subsequent two «waves» of international players – Yulia Putintseva, Alexander Nedovyesov, Anna Danilina, Alexander Bublik, Elena Rybakina – all together contributed to the rapid development of our tennis. They ensured that the men’s national team six times reached the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup, and following the Davis Cup format change will this year play in their third world championship finals in Glasgow, and the women’s team will this year make their debut at the BJK finals in November. There is no doubt that they created a «tennis boom» in the country and following on their examples are many young tennis players that will be the future of Kazakhstan’s national teams. The victory of Elena Rybakina only increased all these trends, further raising the interest in tennis in Kazakhstan to a phenomenal level. We see that parents and children are coming to our tennis centers all over the country in large numbers looking to start tennis. In recent years we have built 38 tennis centers and 364 new tennis courts in 17 regions of the country and we see these tennis centers very busy from morning till night and we see now that there are simply not enough courts to cope with the demands to play our great sport. So, we will definitely continue to build courts and tennis centers.
How much money is spent on international players?
– The budget of the Federation is now entirely provided by sponsors. Previously, the government partially financed up to 25% of the total budget, but in recent years this figure has decreased to 2-3%. At present due to objective reasons the government is unable to allocate substantial funds for sports and at the beginning of this year I took a decision to stop accepting funds from the government.
As for the money received by our best players they have no expensive contracts and the earnings of the tennis players are made only from the prize money they get at tournaments. Certainly, all top tennis players regardless of their age have basic financial support and organizational help from the Federation with travel, visa and with other logistical and organizational support.
In reality, the financial investment by the Federation in juniors is 5 times higher than the funds spent on top players. The Federation invests in a very successful 10 and under national program using smaller courts and slower balls, in a KTF targeted 14 and under program with regular national training camps for the best players, in a high performance academy and other support for the best 14 and over players playing international tennis and in a comprehensive calendar of national and international junior and entry level professional events. Regional governments help us with maintenance of tennis facilities, partially paying for the work of the younger generation of Kazakh coaches and trips of the best juniors from the regions to competitions.
– Just the next question is about Kazakhstani juniors. Without proper training of our young boys and girls the National teams cannot achieve great success.
– Yes, that’s right. To increase participation nationally the Federation works at all levels, starting with a National baby Tennis program for children 4-6 years old. At this age children get necessary initial skills and by age 6/7 can take part in their first competitions. Most attention is paid to the «Tennis U10» project, where children get the basis for their further growth using the slower balls and smaller courts. Experts of the Federation visit major tournaments among players U10, observe them, communicate with their coaches and help them to develop.
– Please tell us more about Team Kazakhstan Academy – what does it give to professional tennis in Kazakhstan? Who of the young tennis players are already showing results?
– Team Kazakhstan Academy was created in 2008. More than 180 of the most talented children, juniors and young tennis players of the country have already passed through it, including Denis Yevseyev, Dmitry Popko, Kamila Kerimbayeva, Yekaterina Dmitrichenko, Gosal Aynitdinova, Anna Danilina, Zhibek Kulambayeva, Timur Khabibulin, Dostanbek Tashbulatov, Grigoriy Lomakin and many others. Some of them have already finished professional sports and started coaching.
As for the young tennis players who are playing now, I would like to mention the player ranked 75 in the ITF world junior ranking and the participant of two junior Grand Slams in 2022, Maxim Batyutenko, and also Islam Orynbasar, Yerassil Erdilda, Arslanbek Aitkulov, Vitaliy Zatsepin, Danir Kaldybekov and of course Damir Zhalgasbay who was part of the successful 14 and under team and who has been training at the academy in Nur-Sultan since December 2021. As for girls they include the 66th ranked player in the ITF world junior ranking and the participant of three junior Grand Slams in 2022, Aruzhan Sagandikova, a recent debutant of the singles at junior Wimbledon, 2022, Sandugash Kenzhibayeva (ranked 89th in the ITF world junior rankings) and Zhanel Rustemova who played in the doubles at Wimbledon and who is currently ranked 130 in the ITF junior rankings and many others that are having success on the ITF junior circuits.
– Last year Kazakhstan’s juniors won a record 37 ITF Juniors singles and doubles tournaments and became finalists in 44 more tournaments. Our tennis players won 19 tournaments and made it to the final 15 times in the Tennis Europe tournaments U14.
– I would like to emphasize that a big part of the success of these players belongs to the private coaches and to the people managing player development at the KTF who are working hard every day to improve the level of tennis of these players. Results of 13-year-old Zangar Nurlanuly who won five Tennis Europe singles tournaments in the past two years are impressive. Now he is ranked number 6 in the Tennis Europe U14 ranking.
Also, in the top 40 ranking of Tennis Europe are Damir Zhalgasbay and Daniel Tazabekov. We are very pleased with the success of our juniors under 12 and under 14 who are playing Tennis Europe tournaments on a regular basis and also those having success on the ITF 18 and under circuit. Among them: Inkar Dusebay, Zara Darken, Amir Omarkhanov, Yerassyl Bakhtiyar, Polina Sleptsova, Yerasyl Erdilda and many other young, talented athletes who are representing Kazakhstan so well.
This year, 2022 is a jubilee year for the Kazakhstan tennis and it is also the year that the KTF celebrates its 30th anniversary. There is little doubt that our team at KTF has laid a strong foundation for tennis development but it is one which requires further active work of everyone, KTF, the branches, the private coaches, the players and their parents, to bring up future champions and to strengthen even further the current tradition of success of Kazakhstan tennis.