A UKRAINIAN tennis ace has claimed a private chat with the WTA CEO about the Russian war gave her a “panic attack” and caused a “mental breakdown”.
Qualifier Lesia Tsurenko decided not to play Belarussian No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday in the third round of the Indian Wells Open.
This meant Minsk-born Sabalenka, the reigning Australian Open champion, received a walkover into the last 16 of the prestigious event in the Californian desert.
Despite the 13-month war in Ukraine, Russians and Belarussian players have not been suspended from competition – they can operate under a neutral flag.
In an interview with Ukrainian media, Tsurenko said she had been left disturbed and demotivated following a recent conversation with Steve Simon, the head of the WTA Tour.
Tsurenko, 33, alleged Simon “expressed his confidence” that Russian and Belarussian players will compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics, adding that “this is in fact a fair play”.
The world no.95 claimed Simon – who “doesn’t support the war personally” – told her that she should not be “upset” if any rivals DID back Vladimir Putin’s murderous invasion as it was just their “opinion”.
Angry Tsurenko also alleged there had been little support or backing offered by the tennis bosses for professional Ukrainian players – there are four inside the world’s top 100.
She said: “I just had a mental breakdown after all the things I’ve heard. It was a panic attack. I had trouble breathing.
“A few days ago I had a conversation with WTA CEO Steve Simon, I was absolutely shocked by what I heard from him.
“I couldn’t pull myself together. I had a panic attack when it was time to go out there.
“I hope I’ll be able to regroup and be more ready for the next tournament.”
Tsurenko, who has lost by retirement or walkover in 10 of 19 tournaments dating back to February 2022, added: “This conversation left me completely shocked.
“I tried to digest all the information but today I just broke down mentally.
“Ukrainian players in our chat know about this conversation. Everyone felt the same, everybody is shocked.
“I just don’t get that such things need to be explained. It’s just so weird and so painful.
“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.”
In response, the WTA said: "First and foremost, we acknowledge the emotions Lesia and all of our Ukrainian athletes have and continue to manage during this very difficult period of time.
"We are witnessing an ongoing horrific war that continues to bring unforeseen circumstances with far-reaching consequences that are affecting the world, as well as the global WTA Tour and its members.
"The WTA has consistently reflected our full support for Ukraine and strongly condemn the actions that have been brought forth by the Russian Government.
"With this, a fundamental principle of the WTA remains, which is ensuring that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination.
"And not penalised due to the decisions made by the leadership of their country."