Friday, September 22, 2023

The tense calm in tennis due to the war: “Ukrainian players have many reasons not to shake hands”

Tennis does not escape the long shadow of the war in Ukraine, even though the organizations that lead it try to show a situation of normality that, little by little, remains more than questionable. While the male circuit coexists apparently oblivious to the problem, perhaps due to the lack of top tier Ukrainian playersthe dynamics of tension that surrounds the feminine as a result of the conflict initiated by Vladimir Putin is leading, little by little, to a situation of no return and that threatens to explode at any moment.

On the way to a year and a half since the war began, the coexistence between the Russian players, the largest group in the top-100, and The Ukrainians continue to add chapters of disagreement. The last one came last Sunday at the Mutua Madrid Open, when the Lesia Tsurenko denied the greeting to Daria Kasatkina after his third round match this Sunday in Madrid

Tsurenko’s reaction to being against Kasatkina drew even more attention, installed in Barcelona and one of the Russian tennis players who from the first moment has been more empathetic publicly with the situation of their Ukrainian colleagues, even going so far as to criticize Putin for this and other issues, such as “the prevailing homophobia in Russia”.

“The saddest part of all is the war is still going on. The Ukrainian players they have many reasons not to shake hands. I accept it, that’s the way it is. War is a nightmare, it is a very sad situation and I understand them”, recognized after the clash the Russian, 25 years old and number eight in the WTA ranking, maintaining her line of support for the situation of Ukrainian athletes despite the recent disagreement.

“Panic attack”

Tsurenko had already made a similar gesture at the beginning of the year in a match against Anna Kalinskaya, making her position clear about having to face athletes. Although the most tense moment was lived in Indian Wellsin March, when he revealed that he withdrew from the match that he was to play for the third round of Indian Wells against the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, number two in the world, for a a “panic attack” that befell him after arguing with WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon.

The Californian tournament had reported that Tsurenko’s withdrawal had come for personal reasons”but the number 77 in the world answered confessing that it occurred because she was “absolutely shocked” by the responses and the lack of forcefulness of the WTA chief executive in a discussion about professional tennis’s response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Kasatkina, during her match against the Ukrainian Tsurenko in Madrid. EFE

“I had a conversation with Simon, and I couldn’t understand what I was hearing. He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if the players from Russia and Belarus support it, then this is only his own opinion, and other people’s opinion shouldn’t bother me”, he complained in an interview to the Ukrainian media.

It was not, however, the only episode of this magnitude in the latest edition of the Californian tournament. In a pre-tournament display, Anastasia Potapova jumped onto the track dressed in the jersey of the Moscow Spartak, in a gesture that in Ukraine was perceived as a provocation. That’s how he perceived it too Martha Kostyukwho when meeting her in the second round of the tournament he avoided any contact with his rivalletting it be seen that she was upset with what happened.

It was something for no reason, but it is not for me to judge her, it is her choice and I respect her, nothing more. If it’s easier for her that way, then I accept her, she’s neither hot nor cold for me,” Potapova said after the meeting. “We were quite friends, we all got along very well with Marta, but unfortunately this person decided to change her mind, but not only with me”, said the Russian, who received her rival’s response shortly after: “I don’t know what to say when people jump with that kind of thing. What is evident is that there is tension: no we are friends. It is logical, we are at war right now“.

Aryna Sabalenka. Reuters

Crossing statements in Miami

I have never faced so much hate in a locker room.”, assured, for her part, Sabalenka upon arriving at the next tournament held in Miami. The Belarusian, singled out for her supposed good relationship with the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has recently tried to get rid of that stigma and has assured that “the WTA is doing everything possible to control the situation, but It is evident that there are nerves in the dressing room“.

I still think that I have not done anything to the UkrainiansNeither do Russian and Belarusian athletes. Some of us, like me, are even helping, albeit privately”, defended Sabalenka, who did not find understanding in Iga Swiatek at a time when the media focus was marked by the debate about whether or not the IOC should admit Russian athletes to the Paris Games 2024.

“I feel like we should help Ukrainian tennis players more, give them everything they need because basically they have to take care of their families like all of them. All we discuss is about tennis players from Russia and Belarus. What has been done so far I don’t think is enough”, replied the Polish, number one in the world, before acknowledging that since last year “there is a lot of tension in the locker room for the war”.

A nervousness that travels from tournament to tournament, and it doesn’t seem like it will disappear in the next tournaments. Recently, Kostyuk revealed that the Ukrainian players were trying, without much success, to get a meeting with the WTA Council for the commotion generated in recent times: “We have not received an answer. Nothing. We’ve only gotten silence“.


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