Kazakh star stresses importance of top-tier exposure

30.09.2021    Views: 1067
Source: KTF press-service
Courtney Walsh

Astana Open top seed Yulia Putintseva believes the chance to watch elite WTA Tour players in action in Nur-Sultan will be beneficial for the future of tennis in Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan No. 1 is among those competing in the inaugural WTA 250 who have noted the excitement on the faces of younger players and fans in attendance this week. The WTA tournament is the second leg of the «festival of tennis» held in Nur-Sultan following the second edition of the ATP 250 Astana Open last week, which was won by Korean Soon-woo Kwon.

Putintseva, the World No. 47, is confident there is a bright future for the sport in her country.

«It is very special, definitely. We have a lot of tennis fans here and a lot of kids playing,» she said.
«When I was doing some masterclasses in the country, there were some really talented kids and I really hope that they can all come here to watch some matches.
«It is a great opportunity. It is great for the country. It is a very, very good opportunity for us also.»
Her Billie Jean King Cup teammate Zarina Diyas lost to Rebecca Peterson 6-2 6-2 in the second round on Wednesday.
While disappointed her singles aspirations are dashed, she believes the introduction of a WTA Tour event in Nur-Sultan is a big step forward for tennis in Kazakhstan.
«I know we had the ATP last year and this year it is ATP and WTA and the Kazakh Tennis Federation is doing so much for our tennis,» she said.
«Tennis is doing so much here. I saw so many kids in the stands today. I saw so many kids training and practicing.
«There are a lot of tournaments here also. ITFs. Challengers. I think tennis is really big in our country. It is developing really, really fast.»

Kazakhstan has made a massive investment in tennis over the past decade, with major training centers built across the country, which has helped to enhance the popularity of the sport.

Yuriy Polskiy, the vice-president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, said a deliberate choice to target tennis was taken more than a decade ago. There are hundreds of junior tournaments annually, along with professional events for senior players.

«We have had a big tradition of tennis in our country since last century, but it was mostly in one region, in Almaty in the southern part of Kazakhstan, where there were clay courts in the Soviet tradition. Now we have big international tennis centers in every region,» he said.

«It was a fierce competition, because soccer is very popular here. Ice hockey, boxing, wrestling, weight lifting, track and field, many others, and initially in Kazakhstan, we were ranked number 15 among other sports, based on the popularity. Three years ago we were number four. This year we are number three.

«The main indicator for me is the kids going around cities with a racquet in their bags. That is a good sign.»

In 2021 the KTF has delivered 18 ITF Futures tournaments, evenly split between the sexes, offering prize money between $15,000 and $25,000.
It has also held six ATP Challenger tour events, a $60,000 tournament for women and moved swiftly to add a WTA leg following the ATP Astana Open when the chance arose in August.

It has been a positive move for players hoping to take the next step in their tennis careers. Zhibek Kulambayeva, 21, showed promise in her first WTA Tour match against Alison van Uytvanck this week and said she would benefit greatly from the experience.

«It was good for me to play against so high a ranked player because now I know … where I can improve. It has given me confidence because now I know I can play against top players,» she said.
«We have a great Fed Cup team, a lot of good players, and the younger generation are there as well.»

The Astana Open proved popular with the men who competed last week and the feedback from experienced travelers this week have been favorable.

«It is really nice, actually. When we arrived, everybody was waiting for us and arranging the visa. They were taking really good care of us,» van Uytvanck said.
«The hotel is really nice. It is one of the best I have stayed in. The people are nice. The ball kids are really good. The center is nice. The facilities are good. I cannot complain. It is just a bit chilly.»

That is not a surprise as the northern hemisphere heads towards winter. Snow is predicted in Nur-Sultan on Thursday. But the experience of hosting outstanding tennis players has whetted the appetite of the KTF, Mr Polskiy said, who noted Kazakhstan is keen to host more ATP and WTA events in the future.

«That is our primary goal now. We have built some momentum. We want to continue. We are now in advanced discussions with several owners of (tournament) licenses because we want to chase that,» he told Australian radio program The First Serve.

«We don’t know the exact dates yet, because the number of licenses is pretty limited and the best time for us is after Australia or before the Asia swing, because we are in the middle of Europe and Asia, because it would be very convenient for the players.
«Now we need just to find the right solution so we can have these events.»

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