Victoria Azarenka rebuffs claims of tension in locker room, fires back at Iga Swiatek over Ukraine comments

Shahida Jacobs
Victoria Azarenka unimpressed

Victoria Azarenka shares a different perspective than Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka about the effect that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had on the WTA locker room and how players are being treated.

Russia embarked on a “special military operation” against the Ukraine in February last year with Belarus providing support for Moscow.

Although various sporting codes banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing, tennis took a more neutral approach as players are allowed to compete as individuals with no anthems and flags are allowed.

From the naked eye, everything appeared to be cordial on the WTA Tour but Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko recently withdrew from a match against Aryna Sabalenka at the Indian Wells Open and later stated she pulled out after she suffered a “panic attack” following talks with WTA CEO Steve Simon, saying she “was completely shocked by this conversation”.

READ MORE: Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko suffered ‘panic attack’ after talks with WTA chief – ‘I was shocked by what I heard’

Tsurenko’s coach Nikita Vlasov also expressed his unhappiness with Sabalenka, but the Belarusian hit back as she revealed that she has been the subject of “hate” because of her nationality adding that there is “tension” in the locker room.

“It seems like, everyone’s just ignoring each other,” the Australian Open champion said.

“Not everyone actually, I’m still talking to some of the Ukrainians, but there are some of the girls who are like really aggressive against us. So I’m just staying away from that.”

World No 1 Iga Swiatek has also been vocal in her support for Ukrainian players and feels “more should be done to help Ukrainian players” adding “everything we discuss in tennis is about Belarusian and Russian players”.

She also took aim at the WTA leadership, saying: “Maybe it should be a little bit less if WTA put some action at the beginning to explain to everybody what’s right and what’s not.”

Former world No 1 and two-time Grand Slam winner, though, has denied reports of friction, adding that she was unhappy with Swiatek’s comments.

“Personally, I have not seen that tension,” the Belarusian said. “Obviously, there are certain players that have different feelings and behaviours.

“Overall, I don’t necessarily share the same opinion as Iga does. I would encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments.”

She added: “Obviously, as a member of the Player Council, I am happy to provide all those facts that have been done. And I think that would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation.”

READ MORE: WTA chief responds to criticism of tennis’ lack of support for Ukraine players