Ukraine grateful to Wimbledon for its decision to ban Russian players

Marta Kostyuk talks to the media

Marta Kostyuk says Ukraine is grateful to Wimbledon and England for its support in the war with Russia and has expressed her relief the third major of the year has not been hit by boycotts.

The All England Club’s decision in April to ban Russian and Belarussian players from competing at the Championships sparked criticism in some quarters and eventually saw the ATP and WTA strip ranking points from the tournament.

Naomi Osaka was one high-profile figure who suggested she could skip Wimbledon and while she is absent due to injury, the world’s best will be at SW19 despite initial fears it could become akin to an exhibition event.

Kostyuk told the PA news agency: “All the Ukrainian players are standing with Wimbledon for their decision and I don’t honestly think just Ukrainian players. I think there are a bunch of players who support this decision.

“I mean, we can see how players still love and everyone, no matter the circumstances, is playing. Only a couple of withdrawals – due to injuries – but everyone is still playing and that melts my heart.

“I am glad players didn’t turn their back on Wimbledon. It could have turned out differently. Players could have boycotted it and then Wimbledon wouldn’t allow Russian or Belarussians anyway, but it was already very messy and not right since the beginning.

“Everything was not set correct and if something like this (boycott) happened, it would bring a lot of mess which is already here with us, so I am standing with Wimbledon. I say it 100 times.”

Teenager Kostyuk is one of four players from Ukraine in the women’s singles but Elina Svitolina will be absent after she recently announced her pregnancy.

It means greater expectation on the world number 79 from Kiev, who burst on to the scene aged 15 by reaching the third round at the Australian Open and also made the last 32 at Roland Garros in 2021.

She broke into the world’s top 50 in February but tennis has been far from her mind since Russia invaded Ukraine during the same month. Her family have left the country but her father remained.

“My dad is home in Kiev. The rest of the family is out. It is never safe because it is always, how do you say it, air raid sirens and all these things. I don’t know how it goes. It is not easy to talk about or easy to process,” Kostyuk said.

“I speak with a therapist. I don’t think in circumstances like this you can process this information by yourself and deal with it by yourself. I know people who haven’t been seeking help or anything like this and I can see how much it damages then.

“I have done a lot of work and it helped me not just on court but in different areas of my life. I am glad about it but the work goes on and hopefully it can get better.”

Kostyuk has enjoyed her time in England so far this summer and admitted the support of this country means a lot.

The 19-year-old claimed wins over Viktorija Golubic and Barbora Krejcikova at the Rothesay International Eastbourne this week before home hopeful Harriet Dart ended her run on the south coast.

After previously not “finding the feeling” on grass, Kostyuk is excited to fully experience Wimbledon after her maiden main draw appearance was affected by Covid-19 restrictions in 2021.

“Yes we feel the support of England, which is obviously great because there are not many countries who have shown such great support and such constant support,” she said.

“It feels good and nice here because whenever you go and whenever someone asks where you are from and you say Ukraine, they all reply: ‘We are so against Russia, we are supporting you’ which is great.

“Honestly I am glad I am playing here. It is going to be one of the experiences of everyone’s life playing a grand slam without ranking points. I want to see how the atmosphere’s going to be but I think it is going to be slightly different from all the (other) tournaments. I am looking forward to it.”

While there will be no friction in the All England Club locker room, Kostyuk knows her upcoming US Open experience will be a different experience after the US Tennis Association recently confirmed Russian and Belarussians can compete in New York under neutral flags.

She said: “I have been disappointed way before all the decisions were ever made. I have been disappointed since the first couple of weeks after the war started at how everyone reacted in tennis and the disappointment keeps on coming.

“It is not like I am shocked or whatever. It is just… we are constantly disappointed and nothing is changing but it is what it is. What can I do? I try my best.”