ITF VP and Kazakh tennis President, Bulat Utemuratov, discusses Kazakh tennis growth

The President of Kazakh tennis Federation and ITF vice-President, kindly granted an interview with Tennis World USA, in which he talked about the growth of tennis in Kazakhstan, that has led the country to be a tennis model to follow

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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ITF VP and Kazakh tennis President, Bulat Utemuratov, discusses Kazakh tennis growth
© Kazakhstan Tennis Federation

“I am pleased to see the number of children with tennis backpacks and rackets on their backs increasing every day in the streets of our cities. The fact that tennis courts in every region of the country are now at maximum capacity, and we have a large queue of people wanting to play tennis, gives me confidence that we are moving in the right direction.

Together with regional authorities, we are trying to maintain this momentum and ensure a further increase in the number of children playing tennis through the construction of new tennis centers, as well as opening of tennis sections in kindergartens, schools and universities."

With these words, President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation Bulat Utemuratov, in an interview he kindly granted to Tennis World USA, detailed the constant growth of tennis in Kazakhstan.

Thanks to major targeted and sustainable investments over the years, tennis in Kazakhstan has seen significant recent growth, demonstrated by the successes achieved on and off the court. Elena Rybakina’s decision to represent Kazakhstan is not the only success. The work carried out by the Tennis Federation has yielded the desired results, making tennis in the country a model for others to follow.

"The availability of infrastructure, coupled with a well-established training system for juniors and professional players, allows us to ensure the sustainability of our tennis ecosystem and demonstrate the consistently good performance of Kazakhstani tennis players, which is one of the key goals of our work," explained Utemuratov.

ATP 500 Astana Open finalists – Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsisipas
ATP 500 Astana Open finalists – Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsisipas© Kazakhstan Tennis Federation
 

According to statistics, over the last 16 years the number of tennis players in the country has increased exponentially, with the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation going to great lengths to provide players with the necessary infrastructure, courts and facilities.

"My main goal was to create modern and accessible tennis infrastructure in all 17 regions of the country. It was also necessary to lay the foundations for the right training processes and to organize international tournaments. Since 2007 we have built 38 tennis centers with 364 courts. Therefore, we have provided talent from all over Kazakhstan with the opportunity to show their worth on the court, and we have also increased competition among players, which contributes to the constant improvement of players' skills”, said Utemuratov.

Another point to note is that due to the cold winter climate in Kazakhstan more than half of the courts are indoors. This significantly increases their costs and makes tennis less attractive to investors.

Utemuratov invested his personal funds in the construction of tennis facilities to achieve financial sustainability of these projects and make them more attractive to investors. Despite the state’s active involvement in construction in recent years, he plans to continue to build centers, as the demand for tennis lessons is growing at a very rapid pace and the Tennis Federation receives many requests from parents asking for new facilities. 

Kaz Womens team
Kaz Womens team© Kazakhstan Tennis Federation
 

Today, in Kazakhstan, as Utemuratov explains, there are 3,500 children who train professionally and more than 35,000 who regularly attend tennis training.

"Our goal for the next 5 years is to increase these numbers by at least 3 times through the active introduction of baby tennis (for children aged 3 to 5 years), increasing the number of nurseries, schools and universities with a training program on tennis, as well as through the construction of new tennis centers. A key element of these ambitious plans is the mass training of tennis instructors and coaches, to which numerous educational programs implemented by the Tennis Federation are now dedicated," explained the President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation.

With to the exponential growth of tennis, it has been possible to host ATP tournaments, a WTA tournament and ITF tournaments in Kazakhstan. Utemuratov explained how in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, Kazakhstan took a risk and organized the first ATP 250 tournament with a provisional ATP license. With only 6 weeks to organize it, the Federation did an incredible job. The experience accumulated – as the president says – from the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup matches "Helped us to organize the tournament at a very high level."

He also explained how in 2021 the Federation organized consecutive ATP 250 and WTA 250 tournaments. Furthermore, thanks to this success, the Federation managed to acquire a permanent ATP 250 license and in 2022, due to the cancellation of the Beijing tournament, it obtained a temporary upgrade to the ATP 500 category, attracting tennis players such as Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. 

"This year we fought for the right to permanently upgrade our license to level 500, but for logistical reasons Munich was given priority. Of course, we will continue to work to strengthen our calendar and include the WTA tournament, especially taking into account the successes of our women's national team members Elena Rybakina, Anna Danilina and Yulia Putintseva," he explained.

In December 2023 Utemuratov was re-elected as ITF Vice-President. 

We asked Utemuratov whether he is satisfied with the work done to ensure synergy in the performance of the ATP, WТА and ITF. "I am pleased with the emerging trend towards the ITF and ATP positions coming closer together. With the appointment of Andrea Gaudenzi to the ATP leadership, important agreements have been reached on cooperation in the Davis Cup, data sales (live-score) and other areas.

We must continue to work together to increase revenue levels in tennis and consolidate our asset management to compete with other sports in terms of spectators. In my opinion, this is well understood by the ITF, ATP and WTA, and we are now moving in the right direction in our relations, although there is still a lot to do to achieve the necessary level of synergy."

Kaz Junior Boys Team
Kaz Junior Boys Team© Kazakhstan Tennis Federation
 

Speaking of Elena Rybakina, President Utemuratov discussed Kazakhstan’s young tennis prospects who will be able to follow the example of the Wimbledon winner.

"At the moment we have some very promising young players in the under 18, under 16 and under 14 categories in whom we have great hope. Among the girls there are Asylzhan Arystanbekova, Sonya Zhienbaeva, Polina Sleptsova and among the boys Amir Omarkhanov, Daniyal Rakhmatullaev, Zangar Nurlanuly. They have all achieved victories over the top players in the world junior rankings and have great potential for development."

And regarding young tennis players, Amir Omarkhanov reached the 2nd round of the Australian Open Junior tournament, beating the favorite of the match, the Italian Federico Chin, in the first round. The match lasted 1 hour and 37 minutes: the young Kazakh rising star winning in straight sets with the final score of 0-6 6-3 6-3.

The future of tennis, without Roger Federer, Serena Williams and the probable retirement of Rafael Nadal at the end of 2024, is a topic which is reaching its climax this year. Utemuratov analyzed how, understandably, the end of the careers of these tennis legends has left many fans worried about the future of tennis and how a new generation of players can replace them. But at the same time, many talented new players have emerged, such as Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev and Holger Rune among the men, and Elena Rybakina, Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff among the women.

"They all have excellent technical and physical skills, as well as a strong personality that attracts people and allows the tennis industry to not only maintain its existing fan base, but also attract a new generation of spectators and expand our target crowd. Furthermore, initiatives such as the ATP Next Gen Finals play an important role in promoting the next generation, as they allow young players to emerge faster and attract the attention of spectators and sponsors, which is necessary for the dynamic development of players," he explained.

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