Aryna Sabalenka, currently ranked second in the world, chose not to attend the usual press conference following her victory in the third round of the French Open on Friday. She explained that she did not feel comfortable participating in a press conference earlier this week due to safety concerns.
After advancing to the second round of the tournament on Wednesday, the Belarusian was repeatedly asked during a press conference to share her thoughts on the conflict in Ukraine and Belarus’ involvement, but she consistently refused to do so. The moderator eventually stopped the questioning.
“On Friday, Sabalenka stated that she followed her usual routine of speaking with the media after her match. However, she acknowledged that the media often asks questions related to politics rather than her tennis performance.”
I have consistently expressed my feelings and thoughts on these questions during tournaments for several months now.
“After my matches, I am not bothered by these questions. I am aware that I am expected to answer questions from the media that are not about my tennis or matches. However, on Wednesday, I did not feel comfortable during the press conference.”
I want to feel secure during my post-match interviews with journalists. For the sake of my mental and emotional well-being, I have chosen to remove myself from this situation today, and the tournament has shown their support for my decision.
“It has been a challenging few days, but my main goal now is to maintain my strong performance here in Paris.”
According to Reuters, instead of holding a press conference on Friday, Sabalenka’s remarks were made in an interview released by the organizers of the Roland Garros tournament in Paris. It is typically mandatory for players to hold press conferences.
According to Reuters, the organizers of the French Open have stated their intention to “safeguard” Sabalenka, leaving it up to her to decide if she will participate in any further post-match press conferences.
CNN has contacted the French Tennis Federation, the organizers of the French Open, for a statement.
In 2021, there was a lot of discussion and controversy surrounding Naomi Osaka, a professional tennis player from Japan. She made the decision to not attend press conferences during the French Open due to concerns about her mental well-being. Ultimately, she ended up withdrawing from the tournament before her second-round match.
Sabalenka on ‘hate’
Sabalenka has faced challenging inquiries during her press conferences at Roland Garros. One journalist even accused her of distorting the truth by implying that Ukrainians hold animosity towards her and avoiding questions about denouncing the ongoing war in which Belarus is being used as a strategic base for Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
In March, Sabalenka expressed difficulty comprehending the “hate” she faced in the locker room due to tense relationships between players following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She stated that she has repeatedly expressed her views on the war, and that no one in the world, including Russian and Belarusian athletes, supports it. She questioned how anyone could support such a devastating conflict, stating that only those who are not morally sound would do so.
Currently, Russian and Belarusian players are participating in tournaments as neutral athletes, without any display of their flag or country.
Matias Grez, a contributor for CNN, provided the reporting for this piece.