The world of sport is still immersed in the controversy generated by the International Olympic Committee anticipating that it would open the door to the rehabilitation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, which has been suspended for more than a year due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And in the tennis environment -already divided by the decision of the ATP and WTA to allow them to compete under a neutral flag and by the announcement of Wimbledon which will once again welcome players from both countries, after excluding them last year-, the crack has opened even more after an episode in which he starred Lesia Tsurenko In Indian wells.
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The 33-year-old Ukrainian did not appear for Sunday’s third-round match against the Belarusian Arya Sabalenkasecond favourite, for “personal reasons”, as officially explained by the organization. But soon after, the world number 95 revealed that the reason for her withdrawal was a panic attack related to the war in her country shortly before taking the field, which caused breathing difficulties.
Tsurenko, currently the fourth highest ranked Ukrainian, said this episode was sparked following a conversation she had days earlier with SteveSimonExecutive Director of WTAwhich left her “in shock”.
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“He told me that he didn’t support the war, but if the players in Russia and Belarus support him, that’s his opinion and that other people’s opinion shouldn’t bother me. At the same time, he told me that if this were happened and he were in my place, he would have felt terrible”, said the former 23rd in the world and winner of four titles in an interview with BTUsa Ukrainian outlet specializing in tennis.
“Furthermore, he was confident that the Russians and Belarusians will return to the Olympic Games and said that exactly what is happening in tennis will happen. And he stated that ‘fair play’ and the Olympic principles would not be violated by this decision, on the contrary. When I asked him if he understood everything he was saying to me, in the midst of Russia’s military aggression in my country, he said yes and that was his opinion of him,” he continued.
Tsurenko explained: “This conversation left me in shock. In my last match against Vekic woman (Editor’s note: won 2-6, 6-2 and 6-2 against the Croatian, seeded 29th) I felt really bad and it was incredibly difficult for me to play. And then everything got worse. When I was about to take the field to face Sabalenka, I had a panic attack. I just couldn’t get out. I mentally collapsed, to be honest. I hope she can really digest all this information and be able to be ready for the next tournament.”
The player also said that she had spoken to other Ukrainian tennis players who are playing the tournament – the first of the WTA1000 series of the season – and that they were all “surprised and perplexed” by Simon’s statements. And she said they have requested a meeting with the WTA board to file a formal complaint against the leader.
“How can we continue to believe that our organization somehow protects our rights? I don’t understand how it is necessary to have to explain these things. It is very surprising and very painful,” concluded Tsurenko.
The Ukrainian has had a very difficult year. Since war broke out in his country, he has withdrawn or surrendered easy win or stroll in nine of the 18 tournaments he played. The losing streak began at the 2022 Indian Wells which kicked off on March 9, 13 days after the invasion of Ukraine began. There he dropped out in the first set of his second qualifying round.
He has since been unable to complete his attendance at the appointments in Istanbul (April 2022), Budapest (July 2022) and Mérida and Acapulco (last month), in which he resigned in the middle of his meetings; and in Eastbourne (June 2022), Portoroz (September 2022), Canberra ITF (January 2023) and Sunday, also in the Californian desert, where he did not show up directly to play. While the reasons were always physical issues, many point out that this tendency to get injured may have to do with the emotional impact of war.