All sports in Europe, including soccer, fencing, and UFC, have been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This also applies to the sport of tennis.
Since the beginning of the conflict, players from Russia and Belarus have participated in tournaments and grand slams, but are required to compete as neutral individuals without displaying their national flag or representing their country.
The sole exclusion was at Wimbledon, where players from those two countries were not allowed to participate last year. However, the ATP and WTA Tours reacted by removing ranking points from the tournament.
Both the male and female tour organizations expressed their opposition towards any form of discrimination against players based on their nationality.
Wimbledon previously claimed that its exclusion was not discriminatory, but has now announced that it will allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in this year’s tournament as long as they compete neutrally and refrain from showing support for the war.
Athletes who are financially supported by the governments of Russia or Belarus will not be permitted to participate in competitions. This includes those who receive sponsorships from companies that are owned or under the control of these governments.
In April, the organizers of Wimbledon announced that they would pay for two rooms for Ukrainian players in the main draw and qualifying rounds for the entire grass court season. This decision was commended by Russian player Daria Kasatkina.
Kasatkina, as reported by the BBC, stated that [players from Ukraine] are unable to return to their homes and must constantly travel, incurring expenses for lodging. Therefore, it seems reasonable.
Some Ukrainian players have expressed frustration about having to compete against players from Russia and Belarus.
Marta Kostyuk, ranked 39th in the world and hailing from Kyiv, stated earlier this year that she would not shake hands with players from Russia or Belarus due to ongoing conflict in her home country.
At the French Open, she was met with boos when she declined to meet Belarusian player Aryna Sabalenka at the net. Sabalenka spoke out against the booing and expressed understanding for Ukrainian players who choose not to shake Sabalenka’s hand.
Sabalenka reiterated her stance on the war, stating that neither Russian nor Belarusian athletes support it. She also expressed disbelief that anyone could support such a conflict, stating that it goes against the values of normal people.
Lesia Tsurenko, a player from Ukraine, has declined to shake hands with her Russian and Belarusian opponents after matches.
For “personal reasons,” she pulled out of her third-round match against Sabalenka at Indian Wells in March. This sparked demands for increased support for Ukrainian players on the WTA Tour.
“I have a lot of admiration for Ukrainian girls. If my country was hit by a bomb or my home was destroyed, I don’t know if I would be able to cope,” stated top-ranked player Iga Świątek in response to the announcement of Tsurenko’s withdrawal from the tournament. Similarly, world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev expressed sympathy for the struggles faced by Ukrainian players.
At the time, the WTA Tour expressed unwavering support for Ukraine and vehemently denounced the actions taken by the Russian Government.
Following her success in the opening round of the French Open, Tsurenko, originally from Vladimirec but now residing in Kyiv since adolescence, expressed her sorrow over the ongoing war.
The previous day, a section of a rocket fell just 100 meters from my house, the woman informed journalists. This event has caused me some distress, and you can probably see it on my face. However, I want to clarify that my negative emotions are not directed towards anyone in the locker room.
Tsurenko appeared to allude to comments Sabalenka made at the Miami Open in March, in which the world No. 2 said she struggled to understand the “hate” she encountered in the locker room amid strained relations with some players following Russia’s invasion.
Several athletes, such as Poland’s Iga Świątek, Slovakia’s Anna-Karolína Schmiedlová, and Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, have donned the colors of blue and yellow representing Ukraine at various tournaments.
Svitolina, a previous top-ranked tennis player and the most decorated athlete from Ukraine, gave her earnings from the Internationaux de Strasbourg in May to support children in her home country. She is also involved in the Rebuild Ukraine initiative, which helps raise money to repair residential buildings affected by the war.
The 28-year-old took a break from playing tennis after the Russian invasion and recently returned to the competitive circuit following the birth of her first child.
When questioned about the altercation between Kostyuk and Sabalenka after the match, Svitolina stated to journalists that there is excessive disturbance taking place, diverting attention from the primary purpose of the situation.
She stated, “Many Ukrainian individuals require assistance and encouragement, and our attention is divided among various things, such as meaningless words and actions that do not improve the situation.”
The inclusion of Russian flags and symbols at tennis tournaments has caused tension.
Anastasia Potapova, a Russian player, was given a formal warning by the WTA for wearing a Spartak Moscow football jersey before a match at Indian Wells this year. The WTA deemed this action as unacceptable and inappropriate.
Two months before that, at the Australian Open, organizers prohibited the display of Russian and Belarusian flags at Melbourne Park due to some fans showing the Russian flag during matches.
Srdjan Djokovic, the father of the winner of the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic, faced criticism during the tournament after being photographed with an individual wearing a shirt with the “Z” emblem and holding a Russian flag featuring President Vladimir Putin’s face.
The symbol “Z” is commonly associated with showing support for Russia, even including their invasion of Ukraine. It has been observed on Russian gear and attire within Ukraine.
Kostyuk, who is 20 years old, has been vocal about Russia’s invasion of her country. In an interview with CNN Sport last year, she expressed her belief that players from Russia and Belarus have a duty to speak out against the war.
According to Kostyuk, every person has the ability to make their own decisions. Despite having the means to relocate their families from Russia, many tennis players choose not to. The reason behind this decision remains a mystery.
Reporting for CNN was done by Amy Woodyatt, Matias Grez, and Jill Martin.