Moscow-born Elena Rybakina won Wimbledon but it wasn’t under a Russian flag

Moscow native Elena Rybakina was crowned Wimbledon champion last week on behalf of her adopted country of Kazakhstan – and Shamil Tarpischev, head of the Russian Tennis Federation, has rejected claims that the star was one that got away for his country. 

Rybakina, 23, defied the odds to beat third seed Ons Jabeur in Saturday’s final at Wimbledon’s famous Center Court, creating the unusual situation of crowning a Russian-born winner at a tournament where Russian and Belarusian players were prohibited from playing. 

After representing Russia in the early stages of her career, Rybakina opted to represent Kazakhstan on the international stage from 2018, accepting an offer of increased financial assistance to do so – but the manner of her win has left some pondering how a player of such potential could slip through the fingers of the Russian tennis infrastructure.

“We didn’t [overlook] anyone,” Tarpischev said of Rybakina via Match TV, whom he said he was supporting at Saturday’s final.

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“It is pointless to talk about these topics, because people are absolutely incompetent. I don’t want to argue with them. Everything is clear from her story – it has been told a million times. 

“The fact is that all parents of athletes want the best conditions for their children. In a certain period of time, one of the former Soviet republics offers this opportunity. People agree and leave – that’s all. This is a purely financial issue. People want perfection. Is it logical?”

Tarpischev added that the situation boils down to a very simple reason: money.

Russian tennis, he says, isn’t infused with the same type of cash as other sports like football or ice hockey inside the country, and he says this makes it inevitable that talents will slip through their fingers sometimes.

“By the way, about 20 of our guys play for Kazakhstan,” he added.

“For example, [Alexander] Bublik also left for financial reasons. There is neither good nor bad in this, because the athlete chooses where it is best. If we had money like there is in football or hockey, these things would not exist. But we can’t pay indefinitely, right?”

Tarpischev suggested it was inevitable that Russia would lose some tennis talent. © Sanjin Strukic / Pixsell / MB Media / Getty Images


Tarpischev added that there are absolutely no hard feelings when it comes to Rybakina’s success on the global stage, even going so far as to congratulate his opposite number in Kazakh tennis. 

“I am very pleased that Rybakina won: she is a good athlete and person,” he added. “Yesterday I also congratulated the President of the Tennis Federation of Kazakhstan, Bulat Zhamitovich Utemuratov. I will also note [former Kazakh President] Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev, who loves tennis and supports him.

“We still have a lot of talented people, but we can’t pay for everyone,” he continued.

“The budget of the federations of the countries that own the ‘Grand Slam’ is 100 million dollars, and we have seven. That’s the whole difference. Like in other sports, we have a contract system, we do not have the resources to support 250 people. 

“Elena has been talented since childhood, she went through the whole system with us until the age of 18. We knew about her talent, but we cannot jump above our heads.”

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For her part, Rybakina credits Kazakh tennis with assisting in her development into a top player, appearing to agree with vice-President of the Tennis Federation of Kazakhstan, Yuri Polsky, who disavowed Tarpischev’s comments that Rybakina was a ‘product’ of Russian tennis.

“I changed my citizenship to Kazakhstan because they believed in me and they offered,” she said in 2020. I was not so good when they offered. So they believed in me and they’re helping me a lot.”

Kazakhstan Tennis Federation president Utemuratov, who is credited with assisting Rybakina’s development and who was present in SW19 for her famous win, added that if Russia was surprised at her sudden success, no one within Kazakhstan was taken quite so aback.

“It was not a surprise,” he said. “Elena had been improving on a consistent basis and heading for this type of success for some time.

“There was a period in Elena’s career at the age of 18 when she considered stopping. Help from our federation at a crucial time proved to be effective, and we are glad that we were able to give her an opportunity to achieve her dreams.”

Rybakina is due in Kazakhstan this week, where she will be feted for her success and will meet journalists and fans, who are expected to flock to see the first tennis star representing the country to win a Grand Slam title. 


READ MORE: Elena Rybakina: Meet the Russian star targeting Wimbledon glory

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