New Asian Tennis Federation head Yuriy Polskiy aims to replicate Kazakhstan’s winning formula in other Asian countries

09.04.2024    Views: 240
New Asian Tennis Federation president Yuriy Polskiy believes his federation’s members need to start looking beyond their own borders to help the sport grow. Photo: ATF

When tennis boss Kitsombat Euammongkol stepped down from his role as head of the governing body for the game in Asia last December, the regional federation turned to Kazakhstan for its next leader.

Yuriy Polskiy, vice-president of his country’s tennis federation, was handed the task of building on Kitsombat’s tenure, and raising the profile of the game in the continent.
In one respect, Polskiy came in with an advantage the likes of Kitsombat and board member Philip Mok Kwan-yat, the Hong Kong Tennis Association president, never had.

While Hong Kong has hosted the game’s best players from the ATP and WTA tours, it had, until recently, lacked the players to make an impact on the world stage.

Elena Rybakina
Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina won the Wimbledon singles title in 2022. Photo: Kyodo

Kazakhstan, in contrast, has a Wimbledon champion in Elena Rybakina, developed by a domestic programme that has grown rapidly over the past 20 years.

It has also produced highly ranked male players such Alexander Bublik, who has won four ATP Tour singles titles and reached as high as No 18 on the tour.

Polskiy believes it is that achievement that led to his becoming the new president of the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF), and one he hopes to help others replicate during his time at the helm.

«From a country where tennis was just starting to develop, we became a country that was home to grand slam winners,» the 36-year-old said.

«We are trusted because we were successful in creating a functioning, sustainable system for developing players and the sport, and we can share our expertise with others.»
Asia is not without its stars. China has had Li Na and Peng Shuai; before Naomi Osaka there was Kimiko Date from Japan; and Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan was the first man born in the region to crack the world top 10.

But the pipeline has not always enjoyed a constant flow, and until Coleman Wong reached the main draw of the Miami Open, no man from Hong Kong had reached that stage at a Masters 1000 tournament before.

Developing the game beyond the occasional success is certainly at the heart of Polskiy’s role, and he believes his federation’s members need to start looking beyond their own borders as part of that growth.

«Many large Asian countries, such as Japan, China, India, Thailand and South Korea, have traditionally focused more on domestic, rather than international, tournaments,» he said.

Coleman Wong
Coleman Wong became the first man from Hong Kong to reach the main draw of a Masters 1000 tournament at the Miami Open. Photo: AFP

«We are trying to change this. We are working to make countries more open, to get them to host more international tournaments and to send their players to other regions of Asia more often.»

Investment is key to that, and while countries spend money trying to attract the game’s elite, he wants money focused further down the pyramid, as Kazakhstan did when it was taking tennis from being something considered «exotic and inaccessible» into the mainstream.

«One of our main objectives is to get other members of our Asian family to embrace the idea of creating and integrating a sustainable system for the development of tennis, from the construction of courts to the establishment of a support and motivation programme for juniors,» he said. «This is the foundation that will make it possible to prepare new generations of players.»

China has made the growth of youth tennis one of its main priorities, and the Hong Kong, where the federation has its headquarters, has a strong infrastructure built alongside its ability to host its Open tournaments.

Still, Polskiy is little more than three months into his initial four-year term, and laying the groundwork for what he hopes to achieve has taken up much of his time since.
That does not mean he has not outlined his main goals for the year, one of which is to try to secure an Asian qualifier for one of the game’s four grand slams.

He and his team also have designs on building on the foundation for junior tournaments in the region, doubling those available for under-14s and adding another 30 to the schedule for the best at the under-16 level.

«This kind of intraregional competition would, on the one hand, greatly reduce the cost of player development and, on the other hand, enrich the entire region by spreading a greater variety of styles and approaches to the game,» he said.

Yuriy Polskiy
Yuriy Polskiy wants money focused further down the pyramid rather than just the elite. Photo: ATF

Polskiy, who began his journey in 2014 as the CFO at the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation (KTF), said success, both short and long-term, would be ensuring the ATF was «financially secure and has the necessary resources to develop tennis in the region».

The annual US$1 million grant from Bulat Utemuratov, vice-president of the International Tennis Federation and president of the KTF, would certainly help with that. And Polskiy said some of the funds would be used to pay for players’ travel costs.

It is not just the elite of the game he wants to help; success for the new president would also mean children in the region having a legitimate expectation of being able to pursue a career in the game.

«I believe that the Asian era in tennis is not far off, as Asia is already producing a large number of talented players,» he said. «I will consider it a huge success if we can make sure that every child playing tennis in Asia believes in their tennis dream and believes in what they can accomplish.»

Josh Ball

A journalist for 25 years, Josh arrived in Hong Kong in March 2018 having spent the previous 10 years in Bermuda. He has worked all over the world in a variety of roles, while covering some of the biggest events in international news and sport.

Source: South China Morning Post

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