Tension continues in the tennis world as Russia invades Ukraine, and Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka said on Friday that Ukrainian players are not the only ones feeling the strain.
“Of course it's a lot of tension between us,” said Australian Open champion Sabalenka after beating Maria Sakkari to reach the final of the joint WTA and ATP Masters 1000 in the California desert.
But, she said, “I still believe that I didn't do anything bad to the Ukrainians – I didn't, the Russian athletes didn't.”
The WTA and ATP tours have barred players from Russia and its ally Belarus from competing under their national flags, but insist that individual athletes have the right to compete.
Wimbledon, which last year banned players from Russia and Belarus, is reportedly ready to allow them to return.
Sabalenka, who said before the tournament that she struggled with guilt over the past year but ultimately concluded the situation was not her fault, hit headlines again this week after Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from her third-round match. Name withdrawn.
Tsurenko later told the Ukraine portal Big Tennis that she had a panic attack a few days after a conversation with WTA chief executive Steve Simon about ongoing tensions related to the war, in which she found Simon incapacitated.
Sabalenka said she felt the WTA was entrusted with dealing with players from all countries.
“I went through a lot of bad things, and unfortunately, I can't say because who would believe a Belarusian girl,” she said.
“I think Tsurenko withdrawing was more than a panic attack or a political situation.
“I think there's something else. I had a really tough situation last year with his coach, the way he treated me. So I think that guy put so much pressure on him and that's why it happened. “
“It's nothing to do with the WTA. They're doing their best. Neither of us have control in this situation.”
“We all (are) just trying to stay calm in the locker room … We all understand the Ukrainians and we really feel bad for them.”
World number one Inga Swiatek of Poland, however, said she understood Surenko's decision.
“Honestly I respect Ukrainian girls a lot, because if a bomb went off in my country or my house was destroyed, I don't know if I could handle it, honestly, and play and compete on the WTA. I can.”