LONDON: Born in Moscow but representing Kazakhstan, Elena Rybakina could be crowned Wimbledon champions on Saturday in a potentially awkward moment for organizers.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, Russian players were banned from Wimbledon this year.
However, there are still Russians gracing the courts of the All England Club after switching allegiance to neighboring Kazakhstan.

Rybakina, who faces Ons Jabeur in the final, opted to play under the Kazakh flag in 2018 as she struggled at 175 in the world.
Four years later, the 23-year-old is set to clinch a maiden Grand Slam title while earning $2.4 million.
However, the shy 6ft (1.84m) Rybakina is tired of pushing questions about her nationality.
“I’ve been playing for Kazakhstan for a long time. I’m really happy to represent Kazakhstan,” the world number 23 said after facing former champion Simona Halep in the semi-finals.
“They believed in me. There is no longer any question about how I feel. My journey as a Kazakh player is already long.”
Rybakina chose not to discuss her time in Moscow, saying she trains in Slovakia and Dubai when not on tour.
“So I don’t live anywhere, to be honest,” she said.
Rybakina is Kazakhstan’s number one ahead of Yulia Putintseva, ranked at 33 and a three-time quarter-finalist in major tournaments. Putintseva was also born in Moscow.
Kazakhstan’s top three men are also Russians – Alexander Bublik, Mikhail Kukushkin and Dmitry Popko.
Bublik made the third round at Wimbledon this year, his best run at the tournament.
Kukushkin, now 34, was one of the first to cross the border, crossing into Kazakhstan in 2008.
“At that time, I was about 150 in the world and struggling,” he said.
“I was not in good shape at that time, but I knew I could play better, much better and I could take it to the next level.
“But I didn’t have any opportunity for that. Unfortunately, in Russia nobody was interested in me. Kazakhstan came to me and they provided me with everything, training conditions, coaches.”
The road from Russia to Kazakhstan was facilitated by the long-time president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, Bulat Utemuratov.
According to Forbes in 2019, businessman Utemuratov had a personal fortune close to $3.5 billion.
At international team level, Kazakhstan’s most successful player in the Billie Jean King Cup is Galina Voskoboeva of Moscow.
The team captain is Yaroslava Shvedova, also from the Russian capital.
In the Davis Cup, Kazakhstan is ranked in the top 10, reaching the quarter-finals in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2018.
Georgia also benefited from a new recruit at Wimbledon when Natela Dzalamidze left Russia to pursue her dream of competing in the Olympics.
The 29-year-old has a Georgian father and a Russian mother. Both still live in Moscow.
However, she insisted that as a holder of two passports, switching loyalties was already in her plans with the 2024 Olympics in Paris looming.
“I thought I’d do it by the end of the year. It wasn’t like I was applying for a new passport. I’ve had a Georgian passport for a long time,” Dzalamidze told AFP.
“But Russian players are banned and I thought to myself why should I waste an opportunity to compete here? I’m 29 now. How many more years will I be playing tennis?”
Ranked at 45 in doubles by the WTA, Dzalamidze and her Serbian partner Aleksandra Krunic were beaten in the second round at Wimbledon.



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