Kazakhstan’s tennis star: The story of Elena Rybakina

Elena Rybakina / Shutterstock

When Elena Rybakina reached the final of the Australia Open 2023, her position in the global ranking of tennis players raised dramatically. The leader of the national tennis team in Kazakhstan, she has broken into the top ten of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). This is what a 23-year-old female tennis player’s success story looks like.

Elena Rybakina was born on June 17, 1999, in Moscow. She began playing tennis when she was a child and has never stopped since. Rybakina attended many sporting schools including Dinamo and Spartak. She even tested herself in gymnastics and figure skating but was told that tall girls (Rybakina is quite tall) would never achieve good results in these sports.

Rybakina’s father knew that his daughter was bound to succeed in sports and suggested she go to the tennis club. Her height and long limbs which might have prevented her from succeeding in gymnastics or skating have turned out to be very useful in tennis. Moreover, Elena’s father was also right when he decided to change the nationality of her daughter. As a result, Rybakina has been playing under Kazakhstan’s flag since 2018.

This decision followed a set of desperate but unsuccessful attempts to find a sponsor for Elena in Russia. Even though her father worked as a producer at the NTV-Plus TV channel, he couldn’t cover all expenditures associated with professional tennis. He had to pay for Elena’s travels, the lease of tennis courts and her coach’s work. Later, Elena said that she appreciates her family for that support. She also admits that she wouldn’t have achieved anything in tennis without her father.

Of course, the most important part of Rybakina’s success is her unique attitude toward life and sport. All the specialists who worked with her said that she was a hard-working, disciplined, well-mannered and clever girl. Despite having a lot on her plate during training and tournaments, she continued doing well at school.

When Rybakina started playing under the flag of Kazakhstan, she gained full support from Bulat Utemuratov, the president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation as the Federation wanted Rybakina to represent the country in all big tennis tournaments. For instance, in 2018, when Rybakina was still playing for Russia, she was ranked 425th in the WTA rating. Later that year, she was able to climb to the 191st position of the rating while playing under Kazakhstan’s flag. In 2019, Elena won her first WTA tournament in Bucharest and got to the 37th position in the global rating. After this huge success in Romania, Rybakina signed her first big contract with a sponsor.

In 2020, Elena won her second WAT tournament in Hobart, Australia. At the time, she had reached the finals of different WAT tournaments four times. As a result, she completed the 2020 season at 19th in the global rating. Elena was the first tennis player from Kazakhstan to climb that high.

In 2021, Elena beat Serena Williams, a prominent female player from the U.S. at the Roland-Garros tournament (6:4, 7:5), although she failed to pass through Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia (7:6, 2:6, 7:9). During the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Rybakina yielded the bronze to Elina Svitolina from Ukraine (6:1, 6:7, 4:6) and took fourth place.

In 2022, Rybakina achieved her most convincing victory when she defeated Ons Jabeur from Tunisia (3:6, 6:2, 6:2) in the final of Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. This triumph of the Kazakhstani tennis player was sensational. In Kazakhstan, Elena has become a superstar and a role model for young tennis players. After the final match with Ons Jabeur, Elena got emotional at the medal ceremony, although she was always restrained before that.

«I was nervous before and during the match with Ons. I am happy that it is over now. I have never felt such big stress. I’d like to thank all spectators for their support and Ons for the game; it was my pleasure. To be honest, I didn’t think that I would reach the final or win the tournament. I have no words. I am so happy. I wouldn’t have achieved this goal without my team. I want to say thank you to them and to the president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Association, who visited the semi-final and final in person. It was incredibly strong support for me. And of course, I want to say thank you to my parents, the most important people in my life. I wouldn’t be here without them. That’s for sure,» Rybakina said during the award ceremony.

Thanks to her win at Wimbledon 2022, Rybakina is currently ranked within the top five best players of the WTA. However, because of the WTA sanctions against Wimbledon, points scored by Rybakina at the British Grand Slam weren’t taken into account for the rating, although no one demanded she give up her prize of $2.5 million. The sportswoman donated a part of this money to charity and even declined the bonus from the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation. She said that she had earned enough and did not need extra money.

In 2023, Rybakina once again proved her professional skills when she reached the final of the Australia Open. Unfortunately, she yielded to Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus (6:4, 3:6, 4:6).

During the tournament Rybakina scored the fastest serve at 195 kilometers per hour.

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