Elena Rybakina is one of the best tennis players in the world, but playing tennis wasn't her first choice when it comes to sports.
Rybakina was always interested in sports, and by the time she turned five in 2004, the Russian-born Rybakina asked her father to play a sport. Popular choices included gymnastics or figure skating, but eventually, she couldn't do any of it. Why? She was too tall.
While Rybakina might have been too tall for those sports, she wasn't too tall for tennis. Tennis was an odd choice for her, but it was a suggestion of her father, a former amateur player himself. Rybakina tried it, she liked it, and she never dropped a racquet again.
Standing at 184 cm (6 feet) right now, Rybakina is still one of the tallest on the WTA Tour but it serves to her advantage. She is capable of hitting extremely powerful serves, which are a huge advantage in setting up points nicely for her.
It's one of the reasons why she won Wimbledon last year; Ons Jabeur simply couldn't handle the serve. It's also one of the reasons why she's one of the best in the world, and keeps delivering constantly.
I don't see [tennis] just as a job, but as something I love.
Speaking further to Red Bull, Rybakina detailed how she became a Kazakhstani tennis player, one that singlehandedly put the country on the tennis map. Players representing countries that aren't those they were born and grew up is nothing new. She is just one of several Russian-born players who play for Kazakhstan (Alexander Bublik, Andrey Golubev, Yulia Putintseva).
The allegiance comes from the country, giving her a chance to do what she loves, to chase her dreams. Financial support is vital in tennis because it's a very expensive sport, one that your average person can't really finance on their own. Rybakina got the support she needed allowing her to focus solely on the game.
They saw my results, believed in me and gave me the chance to play for Kazakhstan, offering financial support that I needed at the time and Russia could not offer. This allowed me to leave the focus only on my game and I changed my citizenship.
Rybakina is paying back the belief by putting forward a superb tennis career, one that likely will be the best in Kazakhstan's history for a while. She's proud of her results so far but doesn't plan on stopping here. Her dreams are far bigger.
I'm proud to have already reached two Grand Slam finals. The important thing is that I don't want to put so much pressure on myself, but just play and enjoy tennis.
Eveer-humble, Rybakina is keen to develop tennis in the country that allowed her to chase her own dreams. She understands that all of this might have never happened without that vital support, and she wants to give back.
The ideal would be to organize a tournament or establish scholarships for youth athletes, because I received a lot of support in Kazakhstan. Now it's my turn to help form a new generation.