Yuriy Polskiy: «The buzz after Rybakina’s Wimbledon win and building more courts in Kazakhstan»

06.10.2022    Views: 295

Ravi Ubha

A monumental moment for Kazakhstan tennis came in July, when Elena Rybakina won the country’s first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon. Yuriy Polskiy, the vice-president of the national tennis federation, said it prompted a flock of calls from parents, who asked how their children could start playing the sport.

In Part Two of this Q & A, Polskiy — a 35-year-old Astana native — reflects on Rybakina’s feat, Kazakhstan’s tennis journey under federation president Bulat Utemuratov and what is next tennis wise in the central Asian nation of about 19 million people. This week’s Astana Open, an ATP 500 held at the National Tennis Center, marks Kazakhstan’s biggest international tennis tournament.

Let’s go back a while. Nine or 10 years ago, how many tennis courts were there in Kazakhstan?

I know the statistic, because I was in charge of the court construction. In 2007, when the president came, there were only 60 courts. Nowadays there are 364. Thirty-six new tennis centers were built in the span of these 15 years. So it’s a huge change and now in every region of the country — and we have 18 regions — we have at least one good tennis center which can host international tournaments, at least like Futures and Challengers.

Now there are a lot of opportunities for kids in the regions to train, to start with tennis. And also we have very good competition. We’re trying to build that, not only in cities like Almaty and Astana, so that there are good players in every region. This is the big strategy.

Ten years from now, how many tennis courts would you like to have?

Oh, at least 1,000.

What is the big goal now for the federation, to more produce more Grand Slam champions, increase participation…?

Our biggest goal is to increase participation because it helps to find new talents and also we are here to promote tennis. We see that there are a lot of results on that side. But the idea for the next five to seven years is to have multiple junior Grand Slam champions. You know we initiated the process, we have good professional players, but we want to make this system sustainable and to do so we have to build a system where there are a lot of juniors up-and-coming and having good results. 

Just what was it like when Elena won Wimbledon?

We always had this thought in the back of our minds that Elena can do that because at the Olympics she also had a very good run [note: Rybakina lost the bronze medal match in Tokyo last year]. She had a chance to win medals and we saw that only some balls were missing and it was not lucky at that time. Still, this time when it happened, it was like a shock that it really happened and a huge joy for the whole country. People were so happy to have a Wimbledon champion because many people don’t know tennis much but they know what Wimbledon means. So it was super exciting news, and we are very happy.

Tell me more about what it was like in Kazakhstan after she won.

Our phone line was dead in the first two days because everybody was calling and asking, ‘How can we get to the court? How can I bring my child? My kid is 10 years old, does he have a chance to be a professional?’ These kind of things, so it was so good to have this kind of buzz and quite often it was interesting to meet people at the cafes and restaurants.

They said, good result with Elena, we saw you on the sideline. It means the people see that, they appreciate the result and it means something special to them. Especially in this difficult time after the pandemic, to have this kind of result, it means something to people.

How much did you know about tennis and were a fan before joining the federation?

Tennis was mostly always nearby. I saw that there were some activities going on because I joined the KTF in 2014. There were already results. But tennis in my time was very expensive. Nobody could afford that, like, a medium revenue family. It was tough. Now, one of our biggest priorities is to make it affordable — and it is affordable now. Let’s say, to train one month, it will cost you $50 for your child. You can do that now. In my time (in 2007 or 2008), it would have cost you at least $1,000. It was tough.

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