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Sabalenka ‘feels bad’ for Ukrainian players amid war tensions

March 19, 2023

INDIAN WELLS, United States: 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.