Indian Wells champion Iga Swiatek has pressed tennis regulators to offer more support to Ukrainian players amid the country’s invasion by Russia. And the 21-year-old star pointed out that there was too much focus on whether the players were from Russia and Belarus and not enough attention to those suffering from the war.
Her comments came in response to Lesya Tsurenko’s withdrawal from Indian Wells ahead of her third-round clash against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka. Tsurenko, 33, said she walked out after having a panic attack after being left “completely shocked” after a conversation with Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) president Steve Simon.
Polish star Swiatek, two-time French Open winner and defending champion in Indian Wells, shared her sympathies with those players from Ukraine who are still competing. The 21-year-old has been praised for his ability to play despite so many being directly affected by the war, which has killed more than 8,000 Ukrainian civilians since it began in February 2022.
“I totally understand why she pulled out, because honestly I have a lot of respect for Ukrainian girls,” said Swiatek, who defeated Emma Radukano to reach the quarter-finals in California. “If a bomb falls in my country or if my house is destroyed, I don’t know if I can handle that and compete.
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“You mentally have to really be there to compete every week. So I understood that she wasn’t ready to do that. I feel more needs to be done to help the Ukrainian players because everything we discuss in tennis is about the Belarusian players and the Russians, if they should be allowed, what’s going on with them.
“I don’t think that’s right, because we should focus more on helping the Ukrainian players and providing them with everything they need because basically they have to take care of all their families, and there’s a lot of baggage on their shoulders.”
Tsurenko was told that “other people’s opinion shouldn’t bother her” after Simon said Russian and Belarusian players would likely be allowed to compete under a neutral flag at the 2024 Paris Olympics. While saying he doesn’t agree with the war himself, Simon noted that the WTA It cannot prevent players from forming their own opinions, although many would suggest that publicly promoting such opinions could be punished.
Wimbledon was the only tennis major to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing last year, although it appears the suspension will be lifted in 2023. The ATP and WTA tours responded at the time by stripping the London Grand Slam of ranking points.
The controversy was renewed after the young Russian woman, Anastasia Potapova, wore the Spartak Moscow soccer jersey before her third-round match against Jessica Pegula in Indian Wells. Potapova, 21, lost from a set in California and faced criticism from Swiatek regarding her right to express such support in the current climate.
“There is a lot of tension in the dressing room and there will obviously be because of the war,” said Swiatek, who had the Ukrainian flag on her hat as she played. “But maybe it should be a little less if the WTA takes some action at the beginning to explain to everyone what is right and what is not right.”
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