Newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina on Tuesday dismissed Russian claims that she was its “product” as she received a hero’s welcome in Kazakhstan, which she represented at the tournament.
Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon this year after Russia sent troops to Ukraine but Moscow-born Rybakina was able to play as she had switched her allegiance to Kazakhstan in 2018.
At the weekend Russia appeared to claim her Grand Slam success when Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpischev described Rybakina as “our product”.
“It’s very nice! Well done Rybakina! We win the Wimbledon tournament,” Tarpischev said.
Russia’s former world number one Yevgeny Kafelnikov reinforced that view in a post on Twitter on Monday.
“Buying a ready to use product from the producer does not take a lot of brains,” wrote retired Kafelnikov, who won the French and Australian Opens and an Olympic gold medal.
Rybakina’s parents still live in Moscow and she had been reluctant throughout the tournament to elaborate on how much time she spends in Russia.
“The transition from a junior to a professional career is very difficult,” Rybakina, 23, told journalists in Kazakhstan when asked to comment on the “product” tag.
“A good team is needed. Not everyone is able to continue at professional level and achieve some successes. Only a small number (can) and in this way I am very lucky.”
“So I am of course not really in agreement with that phrasing.”
‘Player of promise’
Speaking alongside Rybakina, Kazakh tennis federation’s deputy chief Yuri Polskiy took issue with the Russian federation’s position.
“If it is the result of (Russia’s) work, why did they let her go so easily? In 2018, Shamil Tarpischev said himself that he did not consider Elena Rybakina a tennis player of promise,” Polskiy said.
“I think with that it’s time to put an end to this because there is too much hype around this subject.”
For Kazakhstan, Rybakina’s win represents its biggest achievement in tennis, a sport that oligarch and federation head Bulat Utemuratov has invested tens of millions of dollars into.
Rybakina was seen hugging Utemuratov after her win at Wimbledon and said on Tuesday that she would donate some of her prize money to the junior game in Kazakhstan and animal welfare causes.
“I always feel the support of our compatriots. This is a great joy and responsibility for me,” Rybakina said during a meeting with Kazakh Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, upon arrival in Kazakhstan, I saw how many people came to meet me. I still can’t believe what’s happening.”
Smailov, who bestowed a prestigious state award on Rybakina, said the tennis star “made an invaluable contribution to the popularisation of tennis in Kazakhstan”.
“I am sure that this victory will serve as an incentive for many young athletes,” he added.