WASHINGTON, March 1, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)
It has been an extraordinary week in professional tennis. Besides a new No. 1 in men’s tennis being crowned not named Federer, Nadal, Murray or Djokovic for the first time since February 2004, the tennis world has been awash in a geopolitical uncertainly over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Over the past several days, across several continents where tournaments have been played – from Dubai and Doha in the Middle East to Acapulco and Monterrey in North America to Lyon in Europe – there have been many players, including Russians Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; Iga Swiatek of Poland; Rafael Nadal of Spain; as well as Ukrainians Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk and Dayana Yastremska, who have been outspoken about the Russia-Ukraine conflict, whether in press conferences or via social media.
On Monday, several Ukrainian players released a joint statement that was highly critical of inaction by the governing bodies of pro tennis, the ATP, WTA and ITF. The players have asked for a removal of all Russian tournaments from the remainder of the 2022 calendar.
“Our country, Ukraine, is under brutal attack by superior nuclear power. The bombs and rockets are hitting our houses, killing our people , destroying our life,” it reads. The message concludes: “Stop the War. Stop Russian Aggression. Bring Peace to our homes. Be HUMAN.”
— Marta Kostyuk (@marta_kostyuk) February 28, 2022
Ukraine’s top player, the World No. 15 Svitolina, on Monday vowed not play against any Russian or Belarusian players until appropriate action has been taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF toward following the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, “without displaying any national symbols, colors, flags or anthems.” The top-seeded player in a WTA 250 event in Monterrey, Mexico this week, Svitolina is scheduled to play against Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in the first round on Tuesday.
“I do not blame any of the Russian athletes,” Svitolina wrote in a statement she posted on her social media platforms Monday. “Moreover, I wish to pay tribute to all the players, especially Russians and Belarusians, who bravely stated their position against the war. Their support is essential.”
— Elina Monfils (@ElinaSvitolina) February 28, 2022
Late Monday, Potapova wrote on her Instagram:
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Among the Russians, Medvedev and Rublev spoke out last week during tournaments in Acapulco and Dubai that each of them participated in. While Rublev, who won the title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, wrote: “No War, Please” on a camera lens after a victory, new men’s No. 1 Medvedev took to Instagram while competing in Acapulco with a plea for peace and a safer world for children so that they can continue dreaming.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) February 25, 2022
“I want to ask for peace in the world, for peace between countries,” Medvedev wrote. “Kids are born with inner trust in the world, they believe so much in everything: in people, in love, in safety and justice, in their chances in life. Let’s be together and show them that it’s true.”
In press, Medvedev also expressed: “By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world. We play in so many different countries; I’ve been in so many countries as a Junior and as a pro. It’s just not easy to hear all of this news. … I’m all for peace.”
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After Swiatek won the WTA 1000 event in Doha, Qatar on Saturday evening, she dedicated her victory to the people who are suffering in Ukraine and addressed the Russia-Ukraine conflict during her trophy speech.
“I want to show my support to all the people who are suffering in Ukraine,” she said. “Seeing those images is really emotional for me. I wouldn’t even imagine stuff happening like that in the country next to me. I hope everybody is going to be more safe. I hope with all of the problems in the world, that our sport is going to connect [us]. Even though there are many things dividing us, it is going to connect us and it is going to bring us joy. I hope the Ukrainians are going to be well.”
“If sport can connect us even if a bit today and give us a tiny bit of joy in these tough moments, I’m grateful for that.”
— wta (@WTA) February 26, 2022
During his title run in Acapulco last week, Nadal commented on the news of the Russian invasion into Ukraine. He said: “I can give an opinion as a citizen. I don’t want to talk about who is to blame, but for me it’s unbelievable that there are wars at this moment. I can’t comprehend it and I wish for it to end now, because at the end of the day I think it’s devastating and incomprehensible news.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Pavlyuchenkova, the reigning Olympics mixed doubles champion who has always been outgoing and not afraid to speak what’s on her mind, said in a social media post Monday that there’s a fear among Russians about speaking out against President Vladimir Putin and their government. However, she was adamant in stating: “Personal ambitions or political motives cannot justify violence. This takes away the future not only from us, but also from our children. …
“I’m just an athlete who plays tennis. I am not a politician, not a public figure. I have no experience in this. I can only publicly disagree with these decisions taken and openly talk about it.
“Stop the violence, stop the war.”
— Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) February 28, 2022
Finally, Yastremska, 21, and her younger sister, 15-year-old Ivanna, garnered plenty of worldwide attention last week as they documented their emotional departure from Ukraine to France after spending several nights underground fearful of Russian bomb attacks.
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Yastremska was granted a wild card into the singles main draw of the WTA 250 event in Lyon this week and the sisters were given a wild card into the doubles event. As they arrived on court for their doubles match Monday, older sister Dayana was draped in a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. A video image soon went viral.
Proud of my younger sister❤️ but hard to be there on court…. 💙💛🇺🇦🙏🏼🥺 https://t.co/nAxM80tRjK
— Dayana Yastremska (@D_Yastremska) February 28, 2022
The Yastremska sisters lost to Georgina Garcia Perez of Spain and Xenia Knoll of Switzerland, 6-2, 6-4. It was evident but understandable that they were mentally elsewhere during their 66-minute match. Dayana will be on court for her first-round singles match against Ana Bogdan of Romania Tuesday evening.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Dayana Yastremska said, “I am scared for my parents, my friends, and everybody in my country. For you to understand what a missile strike is like, you need to feel it. But I wish [nobody] has to ever feel this [pain].”