Months pass, and the WTA circuit also lives to the rhythm of the war led by Russia in Ukraine. Present in Indian Wells, nicknamed the “paradise of tennis”, the women’s tennis plateau does not experience an idyllic tournament in all respects, between sport and geopolitics. On Sunday March 12, Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko withdrew before her third round match against Aryna Sabalenka, Belarusian player and world number two. Tsurenko suffered no physical injuries, but said he suffered “a panic attack” when he entered the court and faced Sabalenka, whose country supports the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Of course there is a lot of tension between us,” admitted the recent Australian Open winner after qualifying for the Indian Wells final on Friday.
Aryna Sabalenka tried at a press conference to calm this situation on the verge of explosion. “I remain convinced that I did nothing wrong to the Ukrainians, neither me nor the Russians,” she explained. “None of us have any control over this situation. We are all trying to stay calm in the dressing room… We all understand Ukrainians and we feel really bad for them.” Lesia Tsurenko’s coach does not see it that way. Nikita Vlasov, in an interview with Tribuna.com media, called Sabalenka “a player who supports the regime of Alexander Lukashenko”, the President of Belarus who is one of the main supporters of the Kremlin in its action in Ukraine, “and who has never come out against the war”.
The reaction of the WTA in the viewfinder
Collapsed, in tears and subjected to strong tremors, her player Lesia Tsurenko had to give up for what had been officially mentioned as “personal reasons” by the WTA, the organization which manages women’s tennis. The latter authorizes, like its counterpart for the men’s circuit, the ATP, Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in the tournaments of the calendar, but under a neutral flag.
A measure that looks like the status quo for Tsurenko, who explained that he had asked the management of the WTA to discuss this subject. “A few days ago, I had a conversation with the CEO of the WTA Steve Simon, she told the Ukrainian site Big Tennis on Monday March 13. And I was absolutely shocked by what I said. He told me that he himself was against the war, but that if Russian or Belarusian players supported it, it was their own opinion, and that the opinion of others should not bother me.” “I feel abandoned by the WTA, I don’t feel protected by my association, added Tsurenko to L’Equipe. That’s why very little has been done for the Ukrainian players, who have also been very shaken by the conversation I reported to them.”
The case could take a new turn, while Aryna Sabalenka on Friday questioned the version put forward by the one who was to be her opponent last Sunday. “No one can control other people’s emotions. And I think the WTA is doing its best on that front to support both sides. Tsurenko’s withdrawal is not due to a panic attack or the political situation, I think there is something more.” “I found myself in a very difficult situation last year with his coach, because of the way he behaved with me,” she added without giving further details.
Swiatek in support of Ukrainian women
Many women’s tennis personalities have lately supported the Ukrainian players, including Polish world number 1 Iga Swiatek. “Honestly, I respect Ukrainian women a lot, because if a bomb fell in my country or if my house was destroyed, I don’t know if I could bear it,” she reacted on Friday. Swiatek had already criticized Russian player Anastasia Potapova, who entered the court in Indian Wells last Sunday with a Spartak Moscow football team jersey over her shoulders.
If the WTA assured to have warned Potapova, the ambient electricity is probably not close to falling. The body insists on its principle of treating athletes only “on the basis of their merits and without any form of discrimination, without being penalized by the decisions taken by the leaders of their country.” Steve Simon would have spoken to Lesia Tsurenko in favor of the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Source: France TV Info