Tempers became frayed earlier this week when the secretary of the Ukraine Tennis Federation, Evgeniy Zukin, slapped Thomas Hammerl, Chief Executive of Tennis Europe, in the face after describing the organisation’s statement over Russia’s invasion as a disgrace.
It is hard to witness the violent separation that is currently taking place instead of supporting and finding compassion for each other... My heart is with everyone directly and indirectly impacted by this war that is causing such pain and suffering for so many. I hope and wish for peace and an end to the war. Victoria Azarenka
The incident took place at a Tennis Europe meeting held at the Club Mega Saray in Antalya, Turkey, to discuss sanctions and penalties to be taken in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and police were called, who subsequently took Zukin to a local police station.
The Tennis Europe Board had announced that junior events in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were to be suspended, and urged ‘the international tennis community to show solidarity to players from the nations concerned, none of whom should be punished or blamed for the actions taken by the regimes in their home countries’.
Because there was no direct condemnation of Russia, Zukin became incensed at the ‘disgracefully weak’ stance on the invasion of Ukraine, coming amidst wide-spread calls to take firm action and ban Russia and Belarus from national competitions, withdraw tournaments from both countries and make Russian and Belarusian athletes compete under a neutral flag.
Zukin described his actions to The Telegraph, saying: “I read the statement, finished my dinner, stood up, turned around, saw him [Hammerl] sitting five tables near me, and asked him ‘How come you could do this?’
“He said ‘Go away’. [So] I gave him a light slap and walked away.”
Zukin has since issued an apology and said he ‘overreacted’, but he could still face disciplinary action from the ITF.
Meanwhile, the ITF, ATP and WTA issued a joint statement on Tuesday condemning the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and pulling all events from Russia and Belarus while suspending both Federations from membership of the governing body.
Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, who retired in January from the ATP Tour and has joined the reserves to fight for his homeland, has revealed that he has received a ‘message of support from former World No 1 Novak Djokovic.
“Djokovic sent me a message of support, we even chatted a bit,” Stakhovsky told La Stampa. “I tried to contact [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal, I’m sorry they preferred silence. I understand them, it’s not their war.
“We have the support of great personalities, I hope it lasts.”
Stakhovsky recognised the efforts of new World No 1 Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, both Russians, in speaking out against war and calling for peace for all countries.
“They are good guys, they understand the atrocity of this war,” Stakhovsky said. “If nothing else they try to do something, others don’t.
“I have already received hundreds of messages from tennis players all over the world, shocked by what is happening. It is a help.
“It means that they understand that what Putin says about Nazi Ukrainians is false.”
Former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka from Belarus also has gone on record to say that she is devastated by the suffering of people amid the violence in Ukraine after Russia invaded last week.
The invasion has killed more than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians and destroyed hundreds of structures including homes, hospitals, kindergartens and transport facilities, Ukraine’s emergency service said on Wednesday.
“I’m devastated by the actions that have taken place over the last several days against and in Ukraine,” 32-year-old Azarenka posted on Twitter. “It’s heartbreaking to see how many innocent people have been affected and continue to be affected by such violence.
“Since my early childhood, I have always seen and experienced Ukrainian and Belarusian people, as well as both nations, friendly and supportive of one another.
“It is hard to witness the violent separation that is currently taking place instead of supporting and finding compassion for each other.”
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has been a key staging area for Russian forces mounting the invasion, which Russia still calls a ‘special operation’.
Since the start of the invasion, Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes have found themselves frozen out from international competitions across sports, and now the governing bodies of tennis have banned them from competing under the name and flag of their countries.
“My heart is with everyone directly and indirectly impacted by this war that is causing such pain and suffering for so many,” Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, added. “I hope and wish for peace and an end to the war.”
The United Nations has estimated that more than 870,000 people have fled from Ukraine since the invasion was launched a week ago in what looks set to become Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century and could displace millions.
Elsewhere, Bob and Mike Bryan, the most successful men’s doubles team in tennis, are raising funds at next week’s Indian Wells tournament to support Elina Svitolina’s drive to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees.
Svitolina, a former World No 3 who is trying to unite the tennis world behind her country, says she will donate her prize money from the ongoing Monterrey Open in Mexico to the Ukrainian army.
The Bryan twins announced they will launch a ‘Racquets for Refugees’ auction, which will feature tennis racquets autographed and donated by current and former tennis players, during the ATP and WTA event at Indian Wells, California.
“We are all heartbroken to see the tragedy unfold in Ukraine,” Bob Bryan said in a statement. “Children should be on playgrounds and tennis courts, not in bomb shelters and trains fleeing their homes.
“The tennis world is a close-knit family, and I am confident that when we kick off the auction on March 8 we will have an amazing level of support from players.”
The Bryans captured a professional era record 119 titles together, including 16 Grand Slams, 39 ATP Masters 1000s and the ATP Finals title four times, while the Californian pair were the top-ranked doubles team in the world for 438 weeks.
The main draw of the Indian Wells tournament begins with the women’s matches on Wednesday 9 March and ATP action on Thursday 10 March, and wraps up on Sunday 20 March.