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Lesia Tsurenko Plays Tennis to Earn Money to Help Ukraine


WIMBLEDON, England — Lesia Tsurenko’s Wimbledon campaign ended Friday during a match through which her head was someplace else.

Tsurenko, a 33-year-old tennis veteran from Kyiv, had been watching the news from home all week and seeing that Russians had bombed a shopping center and other civilian targets.

“They’re just attempting to kill as many individuals as possible,” Tsurenko said of the Russian military.

Since February, she had gotten higher at keeping thoughts concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine out of her mind when she was on the tennis court, but Friday was a nasty day. She said she felt off-balance from the time she woke up, “like there was no ground beneath my feet.” And once she took the court against Jule Neimeier of Germany, she said she “had no idea play tennis.”

Juggling the constant travel and physical and mental grind of skilled tennis is difficult for even the perfect players. For players from Ukraine as of late, who haven’t been home in months and spend much of their free time getting updates on the health and safety of friends and members of the family back home, the challenge is monumental.

The excellent news for Tsurenko is she seems to have found a semi-permanent home in northern Italy, at an academy run by the famed coach Ricardo Piatti. She has an apartment. Her sister, Oksana, recently joined her. So did her husband, Nikita Vlasov, a former military officer, who’s able to return as soon as he gets the decision but for the moment the forces don’t need someone at his level.

“Now we have no problem with people,” Tsurenko said, a little bit while after her defeat. “The issue is the heavy weapons.”

Tsurenko left Ukraine before the war began, so she shouldn’t be technically a refugee. Recently, she needed to miss a tournament so she could stay in Italy and file paperwork to permit her to stay there. She is waiting for approval. Also, her mother, who lives near Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, doesn’t want to depart, despite heavy bombing. The mother of her sister’s husband also lives there.

Her time playing tennis in England the past month has provided a respite. Russian and Belarusian players were barred from competing at Wimbledon. Knowing how popular President Vladimir V. Putin stays in Russia, Tsurenko has assumed a few of the Russian and Belarusian players likely support him. It’s been higher, she said, not bumping into them within the locker room, though she is going to soon when the WTA Tour moves outside of Britain they usually return to competition.

There have been many matches because the war began Feb. 24 when Tsurenko has wondered what she is even doing playing tennis. One particular match in Marbella, Spain, stands out. That morning she had seen a photograph of an administration constructing in Mykolaiv with a large hole from a missile strike. She couldn’t get the image out of her head.

Currently, though, she has found clarity. She has at all times played tennis because she loves the sport. The riches the game offered never motivated her. Now they do.

“I play for the cash now,” she said. “I need to earn a lot so I can donate this,” she said, “I feel like that could be a nasty quality, since it has nothing to do with tennis, but that’s what I’m playing.”

Coming into the tournament, Tsurenko, who has 4 profession WTA titles and has earned greater than $5 million, had won $214,000 to this point this yr. Making the third round at Wimbledon earned her a further $96,000. For the world’s one hundred and first ranked player, that may be a solid month’s work. She hopes there might be more ahead this summer.

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