Newport sun finally shines down on an emotional Yevgeny Kafelnikov

Newport sun finally shines down on an emotional Yevgeny Kafelnikov

Among his numerous accomplishments, the 45-year-old Russian still stands tall as the last man to sweep the singles and doubles titles at the same major, a feat he achieved at the 1996 French Open.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the first person to admit he didn’t possess natural tennis gifts paraded by the likes of Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios and countryman Marat Safin. He’ll tell you he succeeded instead by outworking his opposition, understanding the importance of being a professional and utilizing doubles as an outlet to further advance his game.

Perhaps it’s why Kafelnikov had a tank full of feelings on Saturday morning in preparation of joining fellow 2019 class honorees Li Na and Mary Pierce as the latest members to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A former world No. 1, two-time major singles champion, four-time Grand Slam doubles winner and an Olympic gold medalist, it’s clear this is an overwhelming distinction for the Russian who patiently waited for his day in the Newport, RI sun to arrive.

“I definitely will be very emotional on stage. I have no doubt about that,” Kafelnikov said Saturday. “It’s one of those things where I understand, finally my whole career is completed. It’s the last pinnacle [moment] that a professional athlete wants to accomplish. To be recognized as a Hall of Famer is a huge honor.”

Kate Whitney Lucey/International Tennis Hall of Fame​

Kafelnikov received word while on holiday in Dubai, when Hall of Fame President Stan Smith broke the news he was selected for this year’s induction. On Friday, Kafelnikov had the opportunity to tour the Hall of Fame’s museum for a jam-packed history lesson, an experience that left the Sochi native in awe as he came to the realization of the exclusive company he would soon join.

“It’s beyond understanding. Unless you really see for yourself what this place is all about, you’re not going to believe it. For me, it was mind blowing. You really understand the history here,” Kafelnikov said. “On top of that, you understand the whole value of being a member of the Hall of Fame. I always wanted to be remembered as a player who had his racquets do the talking.”

Among his numerous accomplishments, Kafelnikov still stands tall as the last man to sweep the singles and doubles titles at the same major, a feat he achieved at the 1996 French Open. As someone who maximized opportunities in doubles to hone his singles game, Kafelnikov is unsure why today’s top players do not share a similar view of its substantial benefits.

“I hope it changes. Records are meant to be broken at some point. I hope someone will do it,” said Kafelnikov. “For me, it’s a big question why the top guys are not involved as much as we [were] back then in doubles. Some elements of the game I was practicing in doubles like serve and volley, return, playing close to the net. I think the doubles game is really important.”

Kate Whitney Lucey/International Tennis Hall of Fame​

Today, Kafelnikov is adamant in striking a balance in his life. There are no early morning wake up calls or tests of physical stamina. His racquets have been traded out for a bag of golf clubs, a hobby he enjoys spending with friends. He serves as Vice President of the Russian Tennis Federation and has high hopes for rising talents Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, who each currently sit inside the Top 10 of the ATP rankings.

“They’ll understand looking at myself and Marat that everything is possible. You just need to work hard, have goals and be really dedicated to the sport you love most,” Kafelnikov said. “I think that’s how I want to be remembered as a player, who sacrificed many things to get to where I am right now.”

For Kafelnikov, his parents were unable to make the trip overseas, due to a surgery his mother underwent two months ago. He spoke with them earlier on Saturday, where they conveyed their pride and urged their son to simply enjoy the day. In addition to his mom and dad, Kafelnikov plans on thanking three coaches who impacted his career along the way. While he would prefer to map out everything he wants to say, Kafelnikov knows going off the cuff at some stage is inevitable.

“I’ll have a list which I’m going to read. I’m also going to be emotional and speak from the heart, for whatever comes to my mind.”