The latest episode of Super September on round 2 of the Astana adventure comes from yet another new shiny sporting stadium in the capital. The venue this time was the National Tennis Centre, a small but intimate stadium where Kazakhstan’s tennis stars show off their skills to their adoring public.
All twenty of them. It was surprising for many reasons that few locals came to watch Kazakhstan’s Davis Cup tennis match over the course of the weekend. One is the fact that Kazakhstan, ranked 8th in the world, are one of the better teams in men’s tennis. Their team included a player, Mikhail Kukushkin, who has previously played impressively against Federer at Wimbledon, and others who have graced the world’s top 50.
Another is the fact that tickets for this match, in the highest tier of international tennis called the World Group (Britain aren’t there), were available for 500T. Just over £2. Try finding those prices for a match in New York, Buenos Aires or Gijon. Tennis is also said to be Kazakhstan’s more favoured sports, so to find so many empty seats on the two days of action we saw was somewhat disheartening.
On the Friday, the first day of action, we swelled the crowd significantly by bringing our elder children with us on a school trip. Though some were apathetic to the incredible quality of tennis on show, others were captivated by Kazakhstan’s attempts to overcome their regional rival, Uzbekistan, and stay in the elite group of tennis nations.
The lack of a large attendance figure should not detract from the efforts of some fans to generate an intimidating atmosphere. One small collection of Kazakh fans played deafeningly loud percussion and brass music inbetween points, to a point where the umpire had to tell them to be quiet. One serve from the top-ranked Uzbek player, Istomin, got stuck in the net and was called ‘fault’ by the umpire. The trombonist calmly stood up and blared out a ‘wha-whar’ sound.
The match we watched was a five-set epic, which our brave Kazakh competitor lost to a man ranked almost 200 places above him. We missed the other Kazakh player level up the tie due to school commitments. The players took some much-needed rest, and we decided to also take a breather from working life at a flat warming party.
A Davis Cup tie is played over three days, however, so there was much more action to see. We watched the doubles match on the Saturday, where Kazakhstan were roared on to a convincing victory by a slighter larger crowd. The only barrier to the straightforward win was the fact that the lights failed at the end of the second set. The fact that the players went off whilst sunlight was bursting through the translucent roof, as well as the electric sound system blaring music, was a ‘we’re in Kazakhstan’ moment for us. The win gave them the upper hand in the overall tie, and they wrapped up a 3-1 victory on the final day.
Kazakhstan is an emerging sporting nation, as their recent Olympic display highlighted, and tennis is one of their more successful sports. I hope more people come next time when they host Austria in February, as it was tennis of a very high quality. We’ve been very lucky to witness some top-drawer sporting action so far in Astana, and I hope that more comes our way as winter approaches.
Love you all