Aryna Sabalenka opens up about ‘hate’ in WTA locker room and how ‘some girls are aggressive against us’

Shahida Jacobs
Aryna Sabalenka takes a moment

Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is taking a toll on tennis players with Aryna Sabalenka admitting that the environment in the WTA locker room was very toxic at one point, although things are “getting better”.

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

It resulted in various sporting codes banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from taking part in events, but tennis took a different approach as players are allowed to compete under a neutral flag with no anthems being played.

Although everything seemed amicable from the outside, there has been tension behind closed doors with Sabalenka describing it as “hate in the locker room”.

“It was really, really tough for me because I’ve never faced that much hate in the locker room,” she said.

The world No 2 added: “Of course, there are a lot of haters on Instagram when you’re losing the matches, but like in the locker room, I’ve never faced that.

“It was really tough for me to understand that there’s so many people who really hate me for no reason, like no reason. I mean, like I did nothing.”

Tensions increased last week as Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from her match against Sabalenka at the Indian Wells Open stating that she had a panic attack following talks with WTA CEO Steve Simon.

Tsurenko’s coach Nikita Vlasov also expressed his unhappiness with Sabalenka, who has admitted that she has had tough conversations with the support staff of some players.

“It was really tough but now it’s getting better,” the Australian Open champion said.

“I had some, not like fights, but I had some weird conversations with, not the girls, but with members of their team. It was really, it was tough. It was tough period. But, now it’s getting better.”

Sabalenka also admitted that with a few exceptions, most players are just “ignoring each other”.

“I was really struggling with that because I really felt bad, like I did something and it’s still not so good in the locker room with some of the Ukrainian girls. But then I realised that it’s not my fault and I did nothing bad to them. And I’m pretty sure that the rest of the Russian and Belarusian athletes did nothing to Ukrainians,” she said.

“I just realised that this is all emotions and I just need to like ignore it and focus on myself with understanding that I did nothing bad. And I cannot control emotions of others.”

She added: “It seems like, everyone’s just ignoring each other.

“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.”