When Lesia Tsurenko announced her last-minute withdrawal for “personal reasons” just minutes before facing Aryna Sabalenka in the third round of Indian Wells on Monday, even though she had been seen practising normally just a few hours earlier, it was clear that something unusual had happened. In fact, the Ukrainian player explained to the Big Tennis Ukraine website that she suffered a panic attack following a discussion with the president of the WTA, the American Steve Simon, on the delicate subject of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
“I just had a mental breakdown after all the things I’ve heard. It was a panic attack, I had trouble breathing,” explained the 32-year-old, ranked 95th in the world and a qualifier at Indian Wells, via the Big Tennis Ukraine translated quotes. “A few days ago I had a conversation with WTA CEO Steve Simon. I was absolutely shocked by what I heard from him. I felt mentally bad in my previous match vs Vekic [in the second round], it was incredibly difficult to play then, today it’s got worse. I couldn’t pull myself together. I had a panic attack when it was time to go out there.”
At first informal, this discussion between Tsurenko and Simon progressed to how the WTA should behave with regard to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which is where the issue started.
“He added that he himself would be feeling terrible, if he was in my shoes, and while he doesn’t support the war personally, if the players from Russia and Belarus do support it, he said, this is only their own opinion and the opinion of others should not upset me.”
Tsurenko: How can someone like this be our leader?
Tsurenko also revealed that she had asked whether Ukrainian players on tour could count on special assistance from the WTA, as was the case at the Australian Open, where each was provided with free accommodation and meals. “Steve Simon told me that he will continue to monitor the situation, so to me, it was clear that it will stay the same, meaning no help, as it was last year.”
Tsurenko, who is part of a pool of Ukrainian players who trained in France last year in the midst of the conflict, explained that she and other players had requested guidance from the WTA board.
“We asked for a conference call with the WTA board about what we should do about it, how someone like this can be a leader, how we should understand whether our organisation protects our rights at all or not.”