The loneliness of Ukrainian players, who would like to “feel more support” from the circuit

At Roland Garros,

A poignant moment like we don’t see so much anymore in the corseted decor of press conferences. As expected, Lesia Tsurenko did not see the light of day against Hurricane Swiatek in the first round of Roland on Monday, after having struggled all the previous week in qualifying. The Ukrainian, 104th in the world, responds courageously to the small assembly, on a thread between what she wants to say and what she can say. So she begins with the most obvious: her permanent malaise, this guilt that never lets go, her desire to return to help her country and to play at the same time.

“Win or lose, it doesn’t really matter”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t feel fantastic playing. I ask myself a lot of questions, I don’t know where to go, where to train, where to live, should I continue to play, because I am no longer 20 years old. I’m not 20 anymore and I understand that there is something much more important than tennis matches. I try to find that balance between going on the court and completely not caring about it or trying to make it matter. So I go there, I play and then, in a way, I say to myself: after all, whether I lose or win, it doesn’t really matter. »

The emotion is palpable and we hardly dare to type on our keyboard for fear of disturbing the young woman in this painful introspection. Then comes what she really means: Tsurenko, like many of her compatriots on the circuit, is appalled by the reaction of the authorities to make Wimbledon a tournament without points this year. Why this penalty? The venerable British tournament is the only Grand Slam to have decided to exclude Russian and Belarusian players because of the war in Ukraine, a decision deemed “discriminatory” by the ATP and WTA.

The dubious position of Wimbledon… Or instances?

The circuit didn’t like either of them, and we couldn’t find anyone better than John Isner to sum up the ambient mess seen on the players’ side: “Personally, I don’t agree with this decision to ban Russians and Belarusians. Of course I support the ATP because I believe that these players should play, they have nothing to do with the invasion of Ukraine So I understand the decision of the authorities, but on the one hand the points are important, it is our own currency”.

Come on, we will also mention Dominik Thiem, the only one to vaguely take a little height, but without making us Ghandi either: “There are certain players who have a lot of points to defend and for whom it is very difficult of course , but I think we have to try to take a step back. The real problem is not at Wimbledon, it is in Ukraine where we would like to find a situation of peace very quickly. “Do you find that it lacks empathy for the dramatic situation experienced by the Ukrainian locker room friends and girlfriends? It’s all the drama of a circuit that goes upside down.

If Roland-Garros, following government policy, never considered sending the Russians home, simply forcing them to play under a neutral banner, the organization of Wimbledon indicated that the only way to postpone this prohibition would have been to make them sign “a written declaration” against the invasion carried out by their country. You might as well piss in a violin, since not a single Russian player has taken this risk, the bravest like Rublev and Medvedev contenting themselves with calling for peace by singing John Lennon all together. Some, like Kachanov, are even outraged at being told this subject over and over again. Our colleague from NY times took for the entire battalion:

– “You don’t even ask me a question about my match, aren’t you interested?” »

– “Um yes, I was going to talk about your match afterwards”

– “No, but fine, go ahead and ask your question”

Stormy introduction, fortunately followed by a more constructive comment: “I have already said several times that I was sad about this decision of Wimbledon and that I cannot play there. We do our job, we try to be professional every day, I would be lying to you if I did not say that this situation does not affect me. But I don’t want to get into more controversy than that. Or say a word to my Ukrainian office colleagues between two doors, you shouldn’t push. The indifference of the circuit ended up disgusting Svitolina, almost in emotional burnout lately.

The Polish Iwa Swiatek wore a small pin in Ukrainian colors on her cap.
The Polish Iwa Swiatek wore a small pin in Ukrainian colors on her cap. – Thomas SAMSON / AFP

“I would like more support from the world of tennis”

“To talk about the tennis world, sometimes I would like to see or feel that people understand this life a little better in general, breathes Tsurenko. But when it’s not happening in your country, you don’t really understand how dramatic it is. I hate what Russian propaganda says about Ukraine, I hate all that because they repeat a lot of lies about my country and it hurts me a lot. I pray before every tournament not to fall on a Russian player because I don’t know what I will do… I would like the great players to support us more. Since the start of the war, what, four or five players have come to talk to me, a little more with the coaches, that’s all.

Thus, the small gesture of nothing at all from Swiatek, who wore a small pin in the Ukrainian colors, almost moved her to tears. “I really appreciate the support that Iga is showing and I know that Poland in general is doing a lot for Ukraine. I would like a little more support from the world of tennis, yes certainly, but the war has been going on for three months and I don’t have the impression that it will change.

Even in the stands, the natural sympathy of recent weeks for Ukrainian women players – there are no entries among men – tends to wither, while Russian players are no worse off than men. others. We surprised court number 7 jubilant for Kuznetsov’s colorful game, it is true, and if Kachanov was surprised by the Portuguese contingent who had come to encourage his opponent in the first round, he “appreciated the electric atmosphere and the public French in front of which he loves to perform, he the former winner of Bercy.

Indifferent Russian players?

So the Ukrainian players prefer to live in packs, each rendering services to the other. Lesia Tsurenko has been invited to train in Italy by Marta Kostyuk, who is due to start on Tuesday. Dayana Yastremska, whose flight to Lyon has been told many times, trained at the Paris Country Club, where she sorted through her friends, says The Parisian “In the beginning, a lot of players messaged me and they offered me help or whatever I needed. But I haven’t had any feedback from Russian or Belarusian players. Even in my personal life, however, there are two girls I was really close to…”

Perhaps she is thinking of Victoria Azarenka, caught between a rock and a hard place. Belarusian living abroad for a long time, but also a member of the players’ council and largely embarrassed at the corners: “I am a tennis player who does her job, that’s what I will continue to do. Anything outside of that, I’m going to help as much as I can, not just talking in the media because a lot of people are trying to do that. I believe in unity, in being a good person, in helping others whenever I can and I will continue to do that”. The former world number 1 could probably consider launching legal proceedings in order to play Wimbledon. But for the moment, no Russian player interviewed claims to think about it.

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