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Courting a big future for tennis in Turkmenistan
The fate of tennis in Turkmenistan is as unusual as it is traditional in terms of the historical circumstances of its existence.
Tennis began being played in Turkmenistan back in the 1950s, during the Soviet times. Early enthusiasts participated in the all-union sports meetings; they never became stars but they did take pride in participating in the competitions.
Tennis is an expensive sport and it requires a significant investment in infrastructure and funding for its development. Since preference used to be given to team sports, tennis, because of its individual nature, was largely ignored in terms of financing.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan gained its independence and started a new life. In 1991, the National Tennis Centre was set up, and it immediately joined the International Tennis Federation (ITF). “True, we were at first only an associate member, we wanted to look around for a bit, and also gather together the wherewithal to become fully developed,” said Serdar Byashimov, who has been chairman of the National Tennis Centre since the very first days of its existence.
At that time there was only one tennis court in Ashgabat, next to the Centre’s office. In the nearby school a young coach gathered together 15 boys and started to work with them, and they achieved good results in national championships. However, as players became good enough to compete in international competitions, many of them decided to emigrate and change their citizenship.
Despite the setbacks, the Turkmenistan National Tennis Centre gained confidence, and eventually became a full member of the ITF. Since 1993, tennis courts have been built all around Turkmenistan, and in the capital particularly, the number of courts has been increasing every year.
A complex of tennis courts, which was built near the Olympic stadium in Ashgabat, made it possible to hold international tournaments in Turkmenistan, and to train players to a level necessary to compete internationally.
Since many officials are also avid tennis supporters, the National Tennis Centre receives support from the government. This is essential for participation in international tournaments, and also for funding and construction of new facilities. This year construction of an indoor court began.
More than 50 coaches work at the National Tennis Centre. Some, including former Turkmen champion Dzhennet Khalliyeva, are licensed as international coaches.
The most promising female tennis player in Turkmenistan today is Anastasia Prenko, a 15-year-old from Turkmenabat, who comes from a family of athletes. Her mother, Larisa Satredinova, played on Turkmenistan’s women’s basketball team. Her father was a footballer. Even before she started school, Anastasia was on the court in Chardzhou (now Turkmenabat).
“She was always grown-up for her age and was distinguished by her quickness and agility – she is flexible with fast reactions,” recalls her first coach Gozel Khalmuradovaa.
After her first triumph in Chimkent at the 18th international junior tournament, in which almost 150 players from Central Asia took part, Nastya continued her training in Ashgabat with professional coach Nelli Grigoryevna Voinich.
The republic newspaper Neytralnyy Turkmenistan wrote “the successful appearances in international tennis tournaments by the sportswoman Anastasia Prenko have already become a fine tradition.”
A two-time champion in Turkmenistan this year, Prenko has also participated in three tournaments in Kazakhstan and has managed to add four more victories and one silver medal to her resume. In the federation they call her a sportswoman “growing before our very eyes”; and her international rating testifies to this. Whereas at the beginning of the year she was ranked 386, by mid-year she had risen to 169.
Prenko is now preparing to take part in the Grade Four international tournament in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, and then go on to play in two competitions in Tashkent. “We very much hope that these competitions will bring her the points needed to improve her rating on the list of the world’s best tennis players,” said Byashimov.