The Russian invasion of Ukraine and how authorities are dealing with it remains topic of debate in the world of tennis with Lesla Tsurenko revealing she withdrew from her match against Aryna Sabalenka after she suffered a “panic attack” following a conversation with WTA Chief Executive Officer Steve Simon.
Following Russia’s invasion of neighbours Ukraine in February last year, the ATP and WTA took a lenient stance compared to other sporting bodies as they refused to ban players from Russia and Belarus from competing in tournaments with the latter supporting the invasion.
Instead players are allowed to compete under a neutral flag with the Russian and Belarusian flags banned as well as the anthems of the two countries.
The likes of Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk called for stricter measures and the All England Club (AELTC) and Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) then banned players from the two countries from competing in UK events last year – including Wimbledon.
That ban, though, resulted in Wimbledon being stripped of ranking points by both the ATP and WTA and AELTC and the LTA look set to overturn that ban this year.
Tsurenko was due to take on second seed Sabalenka in the third round of the Indian Wells Open on Sunday, but withdrew and the official explanation was due to “personal reasons”.
However, Tsurenko gave a full explanation for her withdrawal on Big Tennis Ukraine.
“The reason for the refusal was a panic attack. Officially it will be written ‘personal reasons’, but in fact it is breathing problems and, one might say, hysteria,” she told BTU.com.
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She continued: “A few days ago, I had a conversation with our WTA CEO Steve Simon, and I was absolutely shocked by what I heard. He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if the players from Russia and Belarus support it, then this is only their own opinion, and the opinion of other people should not upset me. At the same time, he noted that if this had happened to him and he had been in my place, he would have felt terrible.
“In addition, he expressed confidence that the Russians and Belarusians will return to the Olympics and said that it will happen exactly as it is happening now in tennis. He also said that ‘fair play’ and Olympic principles were not violated, but on the contrary.
“It is the fact that they will perform at the Olympics that will show that these principles work, that everyone is equal and everyone has the opportunity to perform there. When asked if he understood what he was saying to me during the active phase of Russia’s military aggression in my country, he said yes, and this was his opinion.
“I was completely shocked by this conversation, and already in the last game [against Donna Vekic] it was incredibly difficult to play, difficult to gather and today, when it was time to go to the court, I had a panic attack, and I simply could not go out there. I really hope that I will be able to digest all this information and be better prepared for the next tournament.”
READ MORE: Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina begs Wimbledon to maintain ban on Russian and Belarusian players