Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in action during her semi-final match against Croatia's Petra Martic   REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina in action during her semi-final match against Croatia's Petra Martic REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Stefano Vukov, Elena Rybakina’s coach has called on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to have another look at the basics, failing which the sport might head towards a possible meltdown.

The 33-year-old Vukov, who is presently in Dubai along with Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open runner-up Rybakina and her fitness coach Dario Novak, insisted that the governing body for women’s tennis needs to take an urgent look at the sport and stem the rot as soon as possible.

Stefano Vukov

“The WTA needs to take a cue from men’s tennis. We need a bigger platform of investors to start with. At the moment, most of the investors in women’s tennis are private people or parents. And for the sport to spread out more, I feel the WTA has to take a re-look at the basic structure in which women’s tennis is being run at the moment,” Vukov told Gulf News.

“As players, these youngsters need to get much more from the WTA, and these returns aren’t just by way of prize money,” the Croatian added.

Hailing from a business family with a software engineer dad and mum as a dentist, Vukov grew up with tennis as his first love. He didn’t exactly flourish at the Futures level of Challenger tournaments on the men’s tour, so he turned his attention to coaching and educating young players.

His new-found passion found him working alongside some upcoming players including Saschia Vickery, Renata Zarazua, Anhelina Kalenina, Coco Gauff and even Sofia Kenin. But once he came in touch with Rybakina, the young Vukov knew he had a challenge on hand.

With Vukov constantly challenging her, Rybakina went on improving first as world No. 3 as a junior while reaching two Grand Slam semi-finals at the 2017 Australian Open and French Open.

Sensing further success, Rybakina switched federations from Russia to Kazakhstan in June 2018 just after breaking into the top-200. Her first consistent success on the WTA Tour came in mid-2019 and was highlighted by her first WTA title at the Bucharest Open along with a debut in the top-100.

Rybakina made her breakthrough in the 2020 season, during which she has led the Tour with five finals, including four in her first five events of the year, including her runner-up spot to second seed Simona Halep at the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open in February.

During the bulk of the pandemic shutdown, Rybakina stayed in Moscow and did not have the opportunity to practice for at least two and a half months. She eventually resumed training in Bratislava in Slovakia for five weeks before re-embarking on the tour following easing of pandemic restrictions.

“Players have suffered with the WTA. A lot of sponsors have signalled that they may not be in a position to sustain tournaments and this can be scary. At this moment, there are bigger problems in the world, but we need to ensure that the WTA at least catches up with the ATP when it comes to marketing itself,” Vukov said.

“In women’s tennis we have Venus and Serena Williams. But who are the new stars? Have they identified the new players? The ATP has its Next Gen tournament, but what does the WTA have? I feel they should do more for the women’s game. I like the equality concept in tennis overall, but bodies like the WTA need to do more while identifying and engaging with the new generation of players. I would suggest that they need to take a re-look at the very basics of how they are conducting the tour. Only after this happens then we will start getting more investors being interested in our sport.”