When one thinks of a country that reigns in tennis, they think Spain, France, Russia, Serbia, USA, heck, even Switzerland. The ninth-largest country in the world, Kazakhstan, most likely does not come to mind. So for a brief moment, wipe away your Borat-clouded thoughts of the country and, instead, begin to think of it as a quick-rising force in the sport of tennis. Here are five reasons why:
1) Mikhail Kukushkin: Don’t let his resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite fool you – this kid is a fast-moving shot maker. I first saw him play in New Haven in qualifiers against Paul-Henri Mathieu and today he wins his career first ATP title in St. Petersburg, defeating Mikahail Youzhny 6-3, 7-6. Currently ranked 88th in the world, the Russian-born Kukushkin had a breakthrough in 2009 at the Miami Masters, making it through to the main draw and defeating Tommy Haas in the first round before losing to Dmitry Tursunov in the second round. Most notably in this past September during Davis Cup play-offs, the Kazakh defeat Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka. He’s been running on that momentum since and is now officially an ATP title-holder. Now he just needs to work on his career W-L 10-10 record.
2) Yaroslava Shvedova: Another Russian-born Kazakh, Shvedova has obtained great results in singles but is more often known as a doubles specialist. Why? Oh, just two Grand Slam trophies to her name (with partner Vania King of the US). Shvedova and King had a fantastic year in doubles, winning Wimbledon and the US Open before qualifying for the WTA Tour year-end championships in Doha. Currently ranked 40th in the world in singles, and with one WTA title to her name, Shvedova also reached the Quarterfinals in singles this year at the French Open. It’s hard to figure out what her specialty is but one thing’s for sure, Shvedova is definitely making a name for herself, whether it’s with King or by herself.
3) Andrey Golubev: Currently ranked 36 in the world, Golubev was a ground-breaker for Kazakhstan. In July at the 2010 International German Open, he defeated Nikolay Davydenko, Deni Istomin and Jurgen Melzer en route to his first ATP World Tour title and the first ATP World Tour title for the country of Kazakhstan. He hasn’t made it past the 2nd round of a Grand Slam (yet) but Golubev is a wild card and you can never rule him out from making an upset.
4) Zarina Diyas: This 17-year-old Czech-born Kazakh is now ranked 172 in the world after a stellar performance (and huge upset) at the Kremlin Cup. She had her first top 50 victory over Gisela Dulko in the first round, then went on to upset world number 7 Jelena Jankovic in just 59 minutes in the second. She’s young, but wins like that will only build confidence for an already-skilled player.
5) Evgeny Korolev: Tennis runs in his blood (as Anna Kournikova’s cousin). His best showing at a Grand Slam was the third round of the Australian Open this year, and Korolev can be seen as another wild card in the early rounds of tournaments, often defeating big-named players. But with this big game, it doesn’t matter who he plays, he could just come out with the win.
(Photos: Getty Images)