Born in Russia, made in Kazakhstan: Rybakina eyes Wimbledon title | Tennis News – Times of India

LONDON: Born in Moscow but representing Kazakhstan, Elena Rybakina could be crowned Wimbledon champion on Saturday in a potentially awkward moment for organisers.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, Russian players were banned from this year’s Wimbledon.
However, there have still been Russians gracing the All England Club courts after having switched allegiance to neighbouring Kazakhstan.

Rybakina, who faces Ons Jabeur in the final, opted to play under the Kazakh flag in 2018 when she was struggling at 175 in the world.
Four years on, the 23-year-old is on the verge of a maiden Grand Slam title as well as being $2.4 million better off.
The shy, 6ft (1.84m) Rybakina is growing tired, however, of fending off questions over her nationality.
“I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a long time. I’m really happy representing Kazakhstan,” the world number 23 said after seeing off former champion Simona Halep in the semi-finals.
“They believed in me. There is no more question about how I feel. It’s already a long time my journey as a Kazakh player.”
Rybakina opted not to discuss how much time she spends in Moscow, claiming she trains in Slovakia and Dubai when not on tour.
“So I don’t live anywhere, to be honest,” she said.
Rybakina is the Kazakhstan number one ahead of Yulia Putintseva, ranked at 33 and a three-time quarter-finalist at the majors. Putintseva was also born in Moscow.
Kazakhstan’s top three men are also from Russia — Alexander Bublik, Mikhail Kukushkin and Dmitry Popko.
Bublik made the third round at Wimbledon this year, his best run at the tournament.
Kukushkin, now 34, was one of the original border crossers, switching to Kazakhstan in 2008.
“At that time I was around 150 in the world and I was struggling,” he said.
“I was not in good shape in that moment, but I knew that I could play better, much better and I can get to the other level.
“But I didn’t have any opportunity for that. Unfortunately in Russia nobody was interested in me. Kazakhstan came to me and they provided everything, practice conditions, coaches.”
The road from Russia to Kazakhstan has been facilitated by the long-standing president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, Bulat Utemuratov.
According to Forbes in 2019, businessman Utemuratov had a personal fortune close to $3.5 billion.
On the international team level, Kazakhstan’s most successful player in the Billie Jean King Cup is Galina Voskoboeva, from Moscow.
Team captain is Yaroslava Shvedova, also a native of the Russian capital.
In the Davis Cup, meanwhile, Kazakhstan is ranked in the top 10, reaching the quarter-finals in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.
Georgia also benefited from a new recruit at Wimbledon when Natela Dzalamidze switched from Russia to boost her dreams of taking part in the Olympics.
The 29-year-old has a Georgian father and Russian mother. Both still live in Moscow.
However, she insisted that as a holder of two passports, the switch of loyalty was already in her plans with the 2024 Olympics in Paris looming.
“I was thinking of doing it by the end of the year. It was not like I was applying for a new passport — I have had a Georgian passport for a long time,” Dzalamidze told AFP.
“But Russian players are banned and I thought why do I have to lose an opportunity to compete here? I am 29 now. How many more years am I going to play tennis?”
Ranked at 45 in doubles by the WTA, Dzalamidze and her Serbian partner Aleksandra Krunic were defeated in the second round at Wimbledon.

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