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Because the French Open Begins, the War in Ukraine Roils the Locker Room


PARIS — The thought by the lads’s and ladies’s tennis tours was to take a powerful stand against Wimbledon’s decision to maintain out players from Russia and Belarus, then let tennis and competition move the conversation away from politics and the invasion of Ukraine.

It has not worked out that way.

On Monday, the second day of the French Open, the politics of tennis and Russia reared its head over again. The skilled tours’ announcement Friday night that it will not award rankings points this 12 months at Wimbledon, essentially turning probably the most prestigious event in tennis into an exhibition and punishing players who did well there last 12 months, has roiled the game, igniting a pointy debate over the sport’s role in a deeply unpopular war and dominating the conversation on the 12 months’s second Grand Slam.

Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine spoke emotionally in regards to the invasion, saying it has made her care little about winning or losing. Iga Swiatek, the world No. 1, talked of the game being in disarray. Naomi Osaka, certainly one of the largest stars, said she was leaning toward skipping Wimbledon if the choice to not award rankings points for match victories there stands.

“I feel prefer it’s not united,” Swiatek said after defeating Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-0, in her opening match while wearing a Ukraine pin on her cap, as she has for the past three months. “It’s all of the people who find themselves organizing tournaments, like, for instance, WTA, ATP and I.T.F., all of them have separate views, and it’s not joint. We feel that within the locker room just a little bit, so it’s pretty hard.”

Swiatek’s comments got here shortly after Tsurenko described how lost she has been since late February. Tsurenko, who was ranked as high as No. 23 in 2019, said she at first wanted simply to go home and work out how she could help with the war effort, but she decided to maintain playing and competed in vital tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells, Calif.

Then, after an early loss at a tournament in Marbella, Spain, and no tournament on her schedule for one more three weeks, she realized she had nowhere to live or train. With the assistance of one other player from Ukraine, Marta Kostyuk, she landed on the Piatti Tennis Center in Italy, however the psychological challenge stays of balancing her profession while her country faces an existential threat.

“I just wish to enjoy every match, but at the identical time, I don’t feel that I care an excessive amount of,” she said. “I’m trying to seek out this balance between just go on court and don’t care versus attempt to care. In some cases it helps.”

After feeling emboldened by Wimbledon’s decision to bar players from Russia and Belarus, Tsurenko and her compatriots were disheartened by the WTA’s decision to strike back.

“When it’s not in your country you don’t really understand how terrible it’s,” Tsurenko said. Compared with what she and her country have been through, giving up the probabilities for rankings points looks like a small price to pay, she said. “For them, they feel like they’re losing their job,” she said of the players who’re barred. “I also feel many bad things. I feel quite a lot of terrible things, and I believe, in comparison with that, losing a likelihood to play in a single tournament is nothing.”

She hates the propaganda utilized by the Russian government to disparage her country. She said not more than five players had expressed their support for her for the reason that start of the war. She dreads being drawn against a Russian player in a tournament.

Dayana Yastremska, who can also be from Ukraine and who also lost Monday, said the choice to withhold points for Wimbledon was not fair to players from Ukraine.

“We aren’t a blissful family straight away,” said Yastremska, who still doesn’t have a training base and was unsure where she would spend the subsequent weeks.

In an interview this month, Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, said the organization needed to live as much as its principle that access to tournaments for players must be based on merit alone. He also said that discriminating against a player due to the actions of her country’s government was not acceptable.

“I can’t imagine what the Ukrainian persons are going through and feeling at this moment, and I feel bad for these athletes who’re being asked to take the blame for another person’s actions,” Simon said.

Russian players have expressed disappointment in Wimbledon’s decision and appreciation for the tours’ support in protecting what they view as their right to play, though no player has sought relief within the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer with experience in right-to-play cases, said tennis players from Russia and Belarus would almost definitely have a powerful case.

“We’re skilled athletes, we put effort each day in what we do and principally wish to work,” said Karen Khachanov of Russia, who won his opening-round match Sunday and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last 12 months.

Considered one of the few players not to specific an opinion was Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1 and member of the WTA Players’ Council, but her distress over the disagreement was clear.

“I say one thing, it’s going to be criticized; I say one other thing, it’s going to be criticized,” said Azarenka, who once had an in depth relationship with President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus.

In its statement Friday, the ATP said its rules and agreements existed to guard the rights of all players as a complete: “Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a harmful precedent for the remaining of the tour. Discrimination by individual tournaments is just not viable on a tour that operates in greater than 30 countries.”

The tangible impact of the ATP and WTA decisions on the game was evident Monday as Osaka made her feelings known about possibly skipping Wimbledon. She is just not a fan of grass surfaces to start with, and without a possibility to enhance her rating, she might struggle to seek out motivation.

“The intention was really good, however the execution is form of everywhere,” Osaka said.

Swiatek, who’s from Poland, which has supported Ukraine perhaps greater than every other country, said locker room conversations, which could once have been about changing balls during matches, have shifted to discussions of war, peace and politics. She stopped wanting overtly stating her position, but she hardly masked her sentiments.

“All of the Russian and Belarusian players aren’t responsible in what’s occurring of their country,” Swiatek said. “But however, the game has been utilized in politics and we’re form of public personas and we’ve some impact on people. It could be nice if the people who find themselves making decisions were making decisions which might be going to stop Russia’s aggression.”

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