The repercussions of the war in Ukraine continue to impact the tennis world, headlined by the news that the Belarussian Tennis Federation is filing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after the ITF removed its national teams from competition.
Every time I won on the court, I was happy to bring victory to my country,. I have always been proud to be Ukrainian. Today, when my country is facing a horrific enemy, I will not stand aside. I will do my best to help Ukraine win its most important fight. I am honoured to become part of UNITED24, and join efforts with the President of Ukraine. Elina Svitolina
On 1 March, the ITF suspended the membership of the national governing bodies in Russia and Belarus, and cancelled its tournaments in these countries following the invasion of Ukraine.
On 14 March, the ITF confirmed the exclusion of the Russian and Belarusian teams from this year’s Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup team competitions..
“The Belarusian Tennis Federation continues its work at all levels, defending the interests of our athletes,” the BTF said in a statement.
Individuals from Belarus and Russia are still allowed to compete as ‘neutrals’ at most tournaments, with national flags and symbols banned, but entries from these players are not being accepted at The Wimbledon Championships or any of the lead-up grass court events in the UK.
The AELTC claims it took the decision because Wimbledon is a ‘high-profile event and leading British institution’, citing the exceptional circumstances caused by the conflict, and concluding it had ‘no viable alternative’ but to ban players from these nations from competing this year.
Among those affected by the ban is Belarusian World No 6 Aryna Sabalenka, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, who is competing at the Libema Open at ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands this week alongside several Russian players.
Sabalenka is the highest-ranked WTA player to be affected by the ban, and is joined on the sidelines by former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, who is a two-time Grand Slam winner and two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist.
French Open champion Rafael Nadal hinted that his Russian colleagues, including the likes of Daniil Medvedev, who takes over the men’s World No 1 spot from Novak Djokovic next week, are ‘not in favour’ of the war in Ukraine, but are unable to speak out.
Nadal, the World No 4, also admitted he ‘respected and understood’ Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players in response to the war.
Russian WTA World No 12 Daria Kasatkina did speak out after she was banned from Wimbledon, along with her fellow Russians, and defended the tournament.
“Human lives are much more important, that’s very clear,” she said.
As Nadal noted, though, most of his Russian colleagues are unable to speak publicly about the war, which is partly of the reason that Wimbledon issued a blanket ban instead of allowing Russian and Belarusian players to compete if they signed a declaration condemning Putin and the war.
Meanwhile, Russian coach Dmitry Tursunov has announced that he and women’s World No 2 Anett Kontaveit have parted ways only a few weeks after the Estonian admitted that they were both struggling to cope with the fall-out of the invasion of Ukraine.
The 39-year-old Russian, who reached a career high singles ranking of 20, broke the news via a message on his Twitter account: “I’d like to announce that Anett and I will not continue the partnership.
“I would like to thank Anett for the opportunity, congratulate her on her career high ranking and wish her the best of luck going forward.
“I feel proud of the work I put in and am a bit sad but sometimes good things must come to an end.
“Thank you once again and best of luck!”
The announcement came on the same day that it was officially confirmed that Kontaveit had climbed to a career-high of No 2 in the WTA Rankings.
Tursunov began coaching Kontaveit in August 2021, after he retired as a professional player 4 years earlier, and has worked with a number of leading female players, including Russia’s Elena Vesnina, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2016, and Sabalenka, who reached the last four of both Wimbledon and the US Open last year.
During her time with Tursunov, the 26-year-old Kontaveit won 4 WTA titles, but failed to progress past the 3rd-round in any of the 4 major Grand Slams, losing most recently in the first round of the French Open to Ajla Tomljanovic.
Kontaveit admitted in an interview with Estonian journalists last month that both she and Tursunov were struggling with the events since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
“It is difficult to deal with it mentally, even to travel,” the 26-year-old said prior to competing at Roland-Garros. “But I don’t want to share the feelings in my head that are related to the coach.”
Elsewhere, Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina has become the second ambassador for UNITED24, a fundraising platform initiated by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.
During the first 4 weeks of UNITED24 activity, more than $52.5 million was collected to cover Ukraine’s needs.
Svitolina was introduced during a zoom call with the President of Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, and platform coordinator Yaroslava Gres.
The first UNITED24 ambassador, Andriy Shevchenko, also joined the meeting.
Together with Shevchenko, Svitolina will work on uniting the world’s sporting community in support of Ukraine.
President Zelensky thanked Svitolina for the active stance she has taken since the first days of the war, and emphasised how important it is to raise awareness about Ukraine.
“For the attention to Ukraine not to reduce, we must actively tell people from other countries about us,” he said. “That is why UNITED24’s key goals are both fundraising and raising awareness about Ukraine and our fight for freedom.”
Since the first days of the full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine, Svitolina has refused to participate in any competitions against athletes from Russia and Belarus, while, at the same time, becoming a loud voice for Ukraine on the world stage.
“Every time I won on the court, I was happy to bring victory to my country,” she said. “I have always been proud to be Ukrainian.
“Today, when my country is facing a horrific enemy, I will not stand aside. I will do my best to help Ukraine win its most important fight. I am honoured to become part of UNITED24, and join efforts with the President of Ukraine.”
A charity match featuring World No 1, Iga Swiątek from Poland, is planned under the patronage of Svitolina for the end of July.
Swiatek, who won the French Open on Saturday, has worn a ribbon with the Ukrainian flag colours on her hat since the war began and, during the trophy ceremony, told Ukrainian people to ‘stay strong’.
Svitolina made the decision 2 months ago to take some time away from the WTA Tour due to the ‘unbearable pain’ in her heart following Russia’s invasion of her home country of Ukraine. She was also suffering with a back injury.
Although it has been a very stressful time for the Olympic bronze medallist, she later announced she was expecting a baby with her husband Gael Monfils, which is due in October.
The Odessa-born player also revealed that she needed to spend time with her family, who have now fled the country, although her grandmother remains in the war-torn region.
Now Svitolina has been replaced as Ukraine’s No 1 player by Anhelina Kalinina, who rises one spot to World No 35 this week, while Svitolina has dropped four places to No 37.
There are currently 39 Ukrainian women players listed on the WTA Rankings, including 19-year old Marta Kostyuk, who has also been very vocal about the inclusion of Russian players on tour, demanding the governing bodies of tennis ban them as recommended by the International Olympic Committee.
“We noticed that some tennis players from Belarus and Russia mentioned the war at some point, but at no time did they say that their countries started them on the territory of Ukraine,” Kostyuk stated.
She branded Azarenka’s place among the Player Council members as ‘ridiculous’ after the WTA and ATP Tours took away their ranking points from Wimbledon when the AELTC decided to exclude players from Russia and Belarus in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Victoria Azarenka is in the players’ board, making decisions about points in Wimbledon, where she’s not even participating,” Kostyuk said. “And saying that she has no personal interest in making decisions.
“Just the fact that she’s present there on the calls, doing whatever. It’s ridiculous.”
Ranking points determine a player’s ability to enter events and receive seedings, so stripping them from Wimbledon effectively reduces the event to an exhibition tournament, although the entry lists demonstrate that most top players will play on the hallowed grass in 3 weeks time.
The Player Council, which is made up of current players who act as a voice for athletes on tour, supported the WTA’s decision to strip ranking points from Wimbledon, but many players remain unhappy at the decision.
“I would say 80-85% of the players had nothing to do with the [WTA] decision,” Kostyuk told Reuters.”It’s so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it.
“None of the players’ representatives contacted me. None of them asked about my opinion, what I think. It’s like Ukrainian players don’t exist.
“I’ve been trying to be as vocal as possible, but you feel hopeless most of the time about the situation. I’m still 19. What can I say? It’s not easy.”
Kostyuk, who has managed to get her family out of Ukraine, said her mental health has suffered due to the ‘nightmare’ and she currently works with two psychologists.
She walked off in the middle of her doubles match with partner Elena-Gabriela Ruse at the Italian Open against the Russian pair of Veronika Kudermetova & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
“I started crying on love-three,” said Kostyuk, who is ranked 66 in the world. “Before the match, I was really pumped, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna win and when I went on court, I felt so weird.
“I started crying and I started talking to my coaches. I said I cannot be here, I don’t know why I’m playing.
“I have to win to be heard, but I don’t because there are other problems on the other side, which I’m facing. So a lot of pressure around.
“Suddenly there were way bigger things in life than tennis. I don’t think a lot of people faced what I’ve been facing.”