Monday, March 4, 2024

Belarusian tennis player faced ‘hate’

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Aryna Sabalenka
Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Belarusian world tennis number two Aryna Sabalenka says she has faced “hate” in the locker room over her country’s role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Australian Open champion also said she has had “weird conversations” with members of player’s teams.

Belarus is an ally of Russia and allowed troops to use its territory to launch the invasion last year.

“It was really tough to understand that there’s so many people who hate me for no reason,” said Sabalenka, 24.

“I did nothing.”

Players from both countries have been classified as neutral athletes since the start of the conflict and were banned from last year’s Wimbledon.

Sabalenka, who lost in the final of Indian Wells to Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina earlier this week, was speaking before the start of the Miami Open.

“It was really tough for me because I’ve never faced that much hate in the locker room,” she said. “There are a lot of haters on Instagram when you’re losing matches, but in the locker room I’ve never faced that.

“I had some, not like fights, but I had some weird conversations with, not the girls, but with members of their team. It was tough. It was tough period. But, now it’s getting better.”

Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from a match against Sabalenka – the 2023 Australian Open champion – at Indian Wells last week.

Tsurenko said she had suffered a panic attack after a chat with Women’s Tennis Association chief executive Steve Simon about the sport’s response to Russia’s invasion.

The WTA also issued a formal warning to Russia’s Anastasia Potapova at Indian Wells for wearing a Spartak Moscow football shirt before her match against American Jessica Pegula.

World number one Iga Swiatek has said there should be a greater focus on helping Ukrainian players as the conflict enters a second year.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, said she does “not share the same opinion” as Swiatek.

She added: “I’d encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments. As a player council member I’m happy to provide the facts. That would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation.”

-BBC

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