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Sabalenka ‘feels bad’ for Ukrainian players amid war tensions

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to stir tension in the tennis world, and Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka said Friday that it’s not only Ukrainian players who are feeling the strain.

“Of course it’s a lot of tension between us,” Australian Open champion Sabalenka said after beating Maria Sakkari to reach the final of the combined WTA and ATP Masters 1000 in the California desert.

But, she added, “I still have this belief that I did nothing bad to Ukrainians—not me, not Russian athletes.”

The WTA and ATP tours have barred players from Russia and its ally Belarus from competing under their national flags, but insist that individual athletes have a right to compete.

Wimbledon, which banned players from Russia and Belarus last year, is reportedly poised to allow them to return.

Sabalenka, who said before the tournament that she wrestled with guilt last year but finally concluded that the situation was not her fault, was thrust into the spotlight again this week when Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from their third-round match.

Tsurenko later told the Big Tennis of Ukraine portal that she had a panic attack, the overwhelming emotions coming days after a conversation with WTA chief executive Steve Simon about the ongoing tensions related to the war in which she found Simon unsupportive.

Sabalenka said she felt the WTA had been even handed in dealing with players from all countries.

“I was through so many bad things, and unfortunately, I’m not able to say that because who is gonna believe Belarusian girl,” she said.

“I think Tsurenko withdrawing, there was more than panic attack or more than political situation.

“I think there is something more. I had a really tough situation last year with her coach the way he act to me. So I think that guy put so much pressure on her, and that’s why that happened.

“It’s nothing to do with WTA. They are doing their best job. None of us have control in this situation.

“All of us (are) just trying to keep calm in the locker room … all of us understand Ukrainians and we really feel bad for them.”

World number one Iga Swiatek of Poland said she understood Tsurenko’s decision, however.

“Honestly I respect Ukrainian girls so much, because if a bomb landed in my country or if my home was destroyed, I don’t know if I could handle that, honestly, and play on WTA and compete.”

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