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Iga Swiatek, a World No. 1, Gets Comfortable Using Her Clout

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WIMBLEDON, England — Iga Swiatek, cap still pulled low after her latest victory, was sitting in a players café perched high above the All England Club and the grass she continues to be learning to like.

From her table on Thursday evening, there was a sweeping, soothing vista of privileged people having fun with their privileges, but Swiatek’s focus was elsewhere. It was on the war in Ukraine and on the exhibition match that she had announced a day earlier to assist raise money for young Ukrainians.

It’ll be held on July 23 in Krakow in Swiatek’s home country of Poland. For Swiatek, ranked No. 1 and on a 37-match winning streak, it’s the most recent sign that she wants to make use of her recent and rapidly expanding platform to do far more than sell shoes and pile up Instagram followers.

“It’s a recent position that I’m in, and I’m attempting to use it the easiest way possible,” Swiatek said. “But I still haven’t found out learn how to use it the easiest way, you understand? But needless to say, I would like to indicate my support.”

“I’ve been really emotional about it,” she said of the war.

Poland, which borders Ukraine, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, but Swiatek, whose job takes her to 5 continents, is anxious that an excessive amount of of the remaining of the world is moving on, together with a few of her fellow players.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, many players began wearing ribbons on court that were blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine’s national flag. At this stage, Swiatek is certainly one of the few non-Ukrainians still wearing the ribbon, which she pins to the side of her cap.

“In our country, we’re aware that there may be war, but once I’m traveling, I can see there will not be quite a lot of news about it,” Swiatek said. “Obviously, there was at first, but later there was increasingly silence. So principally, I hope I’m going to remind those who the war is on the market. Society, we don’t have an extended memory. But, I mean, lives are at stake so I believe we should always remind people.”

“But that’s just talking, I suppose,” she said. “Right away, I’m pretty blissful that we’re making some motion.”

The exhibition will feature a match between Swiatek and the retired Polish tennis star Agnieszka Radwanska and lift funds in support of kids and teenagers affected by the war in Ukraine. Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s most successful current player who’s pregnant and off the tour for the moment, will function a chair umpire. Sergiy Stakhovsky, a former Ukrainian men’s star now within the Ukrainian army, will play doubles with Radwanska against Swiatek and a Polish partner.

Wimbledon has, after all, taken motion, too, generating great debate in the sport because the only Grand Slam tennis tournament to bar Russian and Belarusian players due to the invasion. The All England Club made the move, a wrenching one, under some pressure to act from the British government, however the club stuck by its position despite being stripped of rating points by the boys’s and ladies’s tours.

Swiatek would have liked more consultation between the leaders of the tour and the whole player group on the choice to strip points, although the WTA player council, with its elected representatives, was deeply involved in the method.

“I wasn’t really focused on points before, because we should always discuss war and other people suffering and never about points,” Swiatek said. “But needless to say, once I take into consideration that, it looks as if straight away for the winners, and for people who find themselves winning and really working hard, it’s not going to be fair.”

British public opinion polls have reflected support for Wimbledon’s ban even when the opposite big events in tennis, including the U.S. Open, haven’t followed Wimbledon’s lead, maintaining that individual athletes shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their governments.

Swiatek’s counterpart on the boys’s tour: the No. 1 ranked Daniil Medvedev, a charismatic and polyglot Russian, will not be in London and is as a substitute training (and golfing) at his base within the south of France. Six women’s singles players ranked in the highest 40, including No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, even have been barred.

The ban has been met with mixed reactions on tour, each publicly and privately, but Swiatek, after much deliberation, can see Wimbledon’s perspective.

“I believe it’s the one solution to show that it’s mistaken, having war, and their aggression is mistaken,” she said.

“It’s not fair, needless to say, sometimes for these players,” she said of the barred group. “But we’re public, and we’ve got impact. That’s why we’re making quite a lot of money also. We’re sometimes on TV all over the place, and sports has been in politics. I do know people need to separate that, and I also would really like to sort of not be involved in every aspect of politics, but in these sort of matters it’s, and you’ll be able to’t help it sometimes.”

Wimbledon has not emphasized the Russian and Belarusian ban throughout the tournament, but it surely has invited all Ukrainian refugees who’ve settled in the world near Wimbledon to attend the tournament on Sunday.

Probably the most eloquent opponents of the Russian invasion of Ukraine throughout the tournament have been its players, including Lesia Tsurenko, the last Ukrainian left in singles, who lost within the third round on Friday to Jule Niemeier of Germany.

The entire leading Ukrainian players have had to go away the country to proceed their careers. Some like Anhelina Kalinina are still living out of suitcases and using tournament sites as training bases, but Tsurenko has finally been in a position to rent an apartment in Italy and is usually training alongside Marta Kostyuk, one other talented Ukrainian player, on the tennis center operated by the longtime Italian coach Riccardo Piatti in Bordighera.

“A small town by the ocean,” Tsurenko said. “And sometimes, if you find yourself just eating great food and having amazing Italian espresso, and also you see that you simply are surrounded by beautiful nature, for some moments you forget and also you’re relaxed, and you’re thinking that, oh, the life is sweet. However it’s just seconds. It’s very tough for me to clarify to you, and I hope the people won’t ever feel this, but it surely’s similar to some a part of me is just at all times so tight. And I believe it’s going to be a giant release when the war will finish, but not before.”

Swiatek, raised in a family of modest means within the suburbs of Warsaw, cannot fully grasp what the Ukrainians are experiencing, but she will sympathize, and he or she is increasingly determined to act. She, like Naomi Osaka before her and the 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, are a part of a recent wave of WTA stars who’ve made it clear that they don’t intend to stay simply to sports. Gauff has been vocal in recent weeks about gun violence and in regards to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Martina Navratilova, a former No. 1 who stays an activist on many fronts, has been watching Swiatek and Gauff find their voices.

“Socially, the attention from these two, they may really change the world,” said Navratilova, who vows to dam anyone on Twitter who tells her to keep on with tennis.

Swiatek will not be there yet. She continues to be navigating how and where to make use of her clout, but she is all in on July 23 in Krakow.

“For me, it’s really necessary,” she said. “It’s like a fifth Grand Slam.”

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