Aryna Sabalenka hits back after being told she is ‘twisting’ Ukrainian players’ comments
Aryna Sabalenka issued an emotional response after the world No 2 was told she is “twisting it” when it comes Ukrainian tennis players’ comments and feelings towards her following the invasion of their home country.
Reigning Australian Open champion Sabalenka kicked off her French Open campaign with a confident two-set victory over Marta Kostyuk on Sunday, but the occasion was marred by boos from the Parisian crowd after Kostyuk refused to shake hands with her opponent after the match.
Ukraine’s Kostyuk has been one of the most outspoken players on the WTA Tour after Russia invaded her homeland in February 2022 with Belarus providing support. The world No 39 on numerous occasions called out the Russian and Belarusian players to condemn the invasion.
Sabalenka, meanwhile, revealed that the invasion has led to a division in the locker room, adding that she has felt the tension and was one of the most hated players on Tour.
The second seed could become world No 1 if she wins the title in Paris and during the post-match press conference a journalist asked her about being a role model as world No 1 and her message to the world.
It was put to Sabalenka that “the situation with Ukrainian players shows you are twisting it as if Ukrainian’s hate you, but they do not say that they hate you”.
The journalist added: “The only thing that they want from you is either you condemn the war or you support the war. This is the only thing the Ukrainian players want to hear and you are avoiding this question”.
The 25-year-old replied: “First of all, I am not saying they hate me. When I get the question about Ukrainians, they ask me, like, ‘so you know that they hate you?’ Like not personally or politically, they asking the question. So I’m answering the question that if they hate me, like I don’t feel anything like that.
“About the war situation, I said it many, many times: Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it. Why we have to go loud and say that things – this is like 1+1=2.
“Of course we don’t support war. If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands. That’s the part about Ukrainians.”
Sabalenka quickly regained her composure as she then addressed the question about being a role model and her message to athletes.
“The secondly, as the world No 1, what’s my message? Okay, let’s get back to the country. I’m from small country, from Belarus, who was working really hard to get to this level. This is the message to a lot of young athletes who is from small countries, who don’t have enough money, that they can do well in this sport,” she said.
“That they have to work hard and believe in their selves and they can do whatever they want to. This is my main message as world No 1.
“I don’t know if I’m role model for a lot of people or, as I said, there’s going to be people who don’t like me and there is going to be people who like me. I’m focusing on people who likes me and who want me to be the best.
“You know, I want to show my best tennis, I want people to enjoy tennis matches, to enjoy my matches. So this is my message, to bring the joy for people. I don’t know.”
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