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Victoria Azarenka Dropped From Ukraine Aid Event Before U.S. Open

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The U.S. Open’s try and show that sports could help construct a bridge to peace in a time of war suffered a significant blow Wednesday when the tournament was forced to drop Victoria Azarenka of Belarus from participating in an exhibition to lift money for relief efforts in Ukraine just hours before its start.

The move got here after players from Ukraine complained about Azarenka’s participation within the Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition set for Wednesday night at the usT.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open will begin next week.

“Within the last 24 hours, after careful consideration and dialogue with all parties involved, Victoria Azarenka won’t be participating in our Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition this evening,” america Tennis Association announced in a press release. “Vika is a robust player leader, and we appreciate her willingness to participate. Given the sensitivities to Ukrainian players, and the continued conflict, we imagine that is the best plan of action for us.”

Azarenka couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The exhibition will include a roster of among the game’s biggest stars, including Rafael Nadal, Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek and John McEnroe. It’s going down on Ukraine’s Independence Day and the six-month anniversary of a war that seemingly has no end in sight.

When the exhibition was announced earlier this month, Azarenka’s planned participation was seen as a big statement. An amazing majority of athletes from Russia and Belarus, which has served as a staging ground for the Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, has resisted speaking out against the war or expressing any sympathy for victims in Ukraine for a wide range of reasons. Those can include support for the war or fear for his or her safety or that of their relatives who still live of their countries even when the players don’t.

Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, said she had called Azarenka, the previous world No. 1, and asked her to take part in the event, which is kicking off a $2 million fund-raising campaign, when it was still in its planning stages. “It was a fast response,” Allaster said of her conversation with Azarenka, 33, whom she has known for greater than 15 years. “She said, ‘This can be a player alternative, and I would like to play.’”

Azarenka, a pacesetter within the WTA, had been highly critical of Wimbledon and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association, which in April barred players from Russia and Belarus from playing within the annual tournaments in England earlier this yr.

Azarenka now largely lives in america but for years had a friendly relationship with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, the authoritarian leader who has ruled the country since 1994 and has appeared with Azarenka on multiple occasions.

In the course of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, Azarenka told Tennis.com that Wimbledon was “an enormous opportunity to indicate how sports can unite.”

“I believe we missed that chance, but I hope we are able to still show it,” she said.

But with their country under attack and their relatives’ lives in peril, players from Ukraine usually are not feeling any desire to indicate a way of unity with players from Russia and Belarus.

The International Tennis Federation, the boys’s and ladies’s skilled tours and the opposite three Grand Slam tournaments have barred Russian and Belarusian teams from competitions and prohibit players from those countries from playing under their flags.

However the locker rooms and other common spaces at tournaments proceed to be places of tension. Players from Ukraine, including Dayana Yastremska and Lesia Tsurenko, have spoken about their discomfort with being around Russian and Belarusian players, a few of whom, they assume, support Putin. They’ve said Russian players have made little effort to succeed in out to them to specific empathy for what they’re experiencing.

The lone exception has been Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s highest-ranked women’s singles player, who became the primary Russian in tennis to openly criticize the war, a move that would land her in trouble together with her home country.

Speaking with a Russian blogger earlier this summer, Kasatkina described the war as “a full-blown nightmare.” Kasatkina, 25, who goes by Dasha, said she desired to train with and play against players “who don’t should worry about being bombed,” in response to the subtitles of the video, which circulated on Twitter.

She expressed empathy for Ukrainian players who had been forced to go away their homes and seek for tennis academies in Western Europe to be able to train. “I can’t imagine what it’s prefer to don’t have any home,” she said.

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