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Hate, tension and cross-statements: tennis exposed how the circuit is experiencing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Barty, Swiatek y Azarenka en una exhibición en Australia 2023
Photo by Robert Prange Getty Images
Barty, Swiatek and Azarenka at an exhibition in Australia 2023

Women’s tennis experienced a turbulent preview of the Masters 1000 in Miami (United States) with strong statements about the tension that has existed in the dressing room since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and those who presented the topic were great references on the circuit such as the Polish Iga Swiatek and the Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka.

The first to address the situation with a crude story was Sabalenka, number two in the world and recent finalist in the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells: “I have never faced so much hate in a dressing room.”

“I had some, not like fights, but strange conversations, not with the girls, but with members of their teams. It was really difficult,” said the US Open 2019 and 2021 Australian Open champions, who also talked about how she lives off the courts: “There are a lot of enemies on Instagram when you lose games. It was really hard for me to understand that there are so many people who really hate me for no reason.”

Sabalenka en Indian Wells 2023.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Sabalenka at Indian Wells 2023.

After Sabalenka’s statements, there was a cross-statement between Swiatek, currently number one in the world, and Azarenka, who also knew how to be at the top of the ranking and is now part of the Players Council.

In the midst of the debate about what will happen to Russian and Belarusian athletes with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Swiatek said: “I feel that we should help Ukrainian tennis players more, provide them with everything they need because basically they have to care like all their families. Everything we discuss is about tennis players from Russia and Belarus. What has been done so far I don’t think is enough.” And she recognized. “There’s a lot of tension in the dressing room because of the war.”

The strong statement of the Polish woman did not go unnoticed and the one who answered to this was the Belarusian: “In general, I don’t share the same vision as Iga. I would tell her to come and take a look at the things that have happened before making any comments. Personally, I haven’t seen that tension. It’s clear that there are certain players who have different feelings and behaviors.”

“As part of the Council, I would be very happy to introduce and teach you everything that has been done previously, and I think that would be a much more appropriate way to have that conversation. I regret that these things have become more interesting issues during press conferences than the sport itself,” Azarenka added.

Swiatek en Indian Wells 2023
Swiatek at Indian Wells 2023

The short circuits between the WTA players are not new and Azarenka was also the protagonist of a tense moment when Marta Kostyuk did not shake her hand after a match they played last year at the US Open, something that also happened a few weeks ago with Ukraine’s second racket after defeating Russia’s Varvara Gracheva in the Austin final.

“People who simply say that they don’t want war make us seem (to Ukrainians) that we want war. Obviously, we don’t want war either. Whoever speaks clearly, I think they have every right to be in the circuit, but whoever doesn’t… I don’t think they’re human. I don’t talk to Russian and Belarusian tennis players, I just say ‘hi’ to them,” said Kostyuk.

In the midst of these cross-statements that exposed the situation that has been experienced on the tennis circuit since the invasion, which has also happened in other sports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed the date on which the situation of athletes from Russia and Belarus will be discussed.

The IOC announced that the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee will meet in Lausanne (Switzerland) from 28 to 30 March and will address sanctions against Russia and Belarus as well as the status of athletes from both countries and measures of solidarity with Ukraine.

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