Kazakhstan is busy carving out its own pathway to become a tennis powerhouse.
Scanning through the FedEx ATP Rankings you can see the gregarious Alexander Bublik up at No. 34, while Elena Rybakina is flying the flag on the WTA up at world No.17.
With four men and four women in the Top 300, Kazakhstan tennis is thriving, but it’s been an incremental process. An effort requiring unity and steely determination.
“Nothing happens by chance, the work has been done,” former World No. 33 Andrey Golubev said at the ATP 250 Astana Open.
“The feeling I have, with the Kazakh Federation, we act as one team. Of course, everyone has their own coach and team, but the federation is united and one. We are all moving in the same direction.”
That direction has seen the Kazakh Tennis Federation provide the platform for players from toddlers all the way to the professional circuit.
So much so, that in 2021 Kazakhstan has hosted a plethora of professional tournaments including 27 weeks of ITF Futures, seven ATP Challenger events and now a festival of tennis with back-to-back weeks of ATP 250 and WTA 250 tournaments.
Golubev is urging any Kazakh youngster to take advantage of the support he wished he had en route to the top.
“It’s a very, very good starting point. It comes from our President, who is so involved in every aspect. He wants to help, but also to create and build up,” continued Golubev, competing in the doubles in Nur-Sultan this week.
“People like me, my age, we were coming from places where there were no courts, no money, no help, just doing our best with parents.
“Only with desire, the will to get out of, let’s label a ‘bad’ life, we could achieve something. Imagine this alongside the infrastructure here and the federation support. They just need to take it.”
The Tennis landscape in Kazakhstan has blossomed since businessman and philanthropist Bulat Utemuratov took over the helm as President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation in 2007, investing his own resources and earning government funding.
It’s been quite the accomplishment, building the infrastructure for 35 indoor tennis centres within the largest landlocked country in the world, which has 18 million people and two time zones.
Step forward Kazakh Tennis Director Dave Miley, who was previously in charge of player development and the junior circuit at the ITF over a 25-year stint.
“We know every player, their coach, how many hours they’re playing, whether they are doing fitness. We are able to give them the tournaments to develop,” said Miley. “We can boost their resources whilst making sure they are doing the right things that all over countries are doing.”
Each tennis centre has a solid 10-and-under programme, festivals of tennis and the element of competition is essential from an early age. For example, there are 14 ‘Masters’ events for the best 10-and-under prospects, where each kid plays five matches, every one counting to their final position.[FOLLOW 1000]
Miley’s colleagues are identifying the top talent and funneling them into targeted programmes at the federation’s Nur-Sultan based academy. Twenty hours of tennis a week, elite coaching, 33 courts across the surfaces, on-site accommodation, it’s a world class operation.
The infrastructure is there, the competition is there, simply put Kazakh children from all age groups can take part.
Due to these foundations, Kazakhstan is starting to have an impact on the junior circuit, with three girls in the Top 200 and two boys in the Top 400 – which has been boosted by 24 junior ITF events across central Asia. Each junior is set a season ranking goal in January. Standards are high.
“We work with the coaches to establish what technical, tactical, physical and mental work do they need to get there,” continued Miley. “This is how we work. We want the competition and the ranking to drive and the coaching and fitness to support. Its systematic, but we know we have to be flexible.”
There is an abundance of competitive opportunities, the players are appearing in Kazakh colours at all levels on the international scene.
“Everyone knows the structure, that if you start as a 10-and-under kid, you have a chance of eventually be in the Davis Cup or Billie Jean King Cup team,” stated Miley.
“One of the targets is within three years is to have at least two boys and two girls playing junior Grand Slams and we think that’s pretty realistic. “The eventual goal is more players and better players. We want participation to grow, but also better players to see there is a pathway to the top, to have really good players representing the national teams at junior and professional levels.”