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EXCLUSIVE – “I’m sure more action will be taken to help. I appreciate it. We all do” – Turkey’s Ipek Senoglu on the support from tennis bodies and on the devastating impact of the earthquakes
Retired WTA pro Ipek Senoglu speaks exclusively to Tennis Majors to give us a first hand account of the devastation in her country and her reaction to the new initiative launched by the tennis bodies among other things
The earthquakes that devastated Turkey and Syria on February 6 have been front-page news ever since the unfortunate day. A rising death toll (42,00 deaths have been confirmed: more than 36,100 in Turkey and 5,800 in Syria), countless tales of tragedy and personal loss, and some stories of miraculous recoveries and the fighting human spirit as well.
Former WTA pro, Ipek Senoglu, who peaked at No 53 in the doubles rankings and reached the top 300 in singles, was in Turkey when the calamity struck. A decade after she stopped competing on the pro tour, Senoglu spoke to Tennis Majors exclusively to give us a first hand account of the devastation, about why she has been disappointed in the delayed response from tennis’ governing bodies and why she believes she will never feel the same again.
Tennis Majors: For our readers who may not be very familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you are from and about your journey with tennis?
Ipek Senoglu: Well, my name is Ipek Senoglu. I am the first tennis player from Turkey to ever have competed in Grand Slams. I stopped playing on the pro tour in 2012. Since then, I have got married and also have a 7-year-old daughter.
Tennis Majors: Where were you when the earthquake happened and how did you learn about it?
Ipek Senoglu: When the earthquake happened, Turkey was on a 2-week semester break for the school kids so we were in our winter house. Normally that Sunday night, Monday morning at 4:17 AM, we would be back at home in Istanbul, as the next day school would start, but it started to snow during the day and we thought school would be on holiday due to snow so we decided to stay one more day in Sapanca- an hour away from our Istanbul home. At about 4.30 AM, my daughter, who had fallen asleep with me that night, had a bad dream and so I woke up to calm her. Once she slept, I went down to make myself some coffee since it was almost morning. I made my cup of coffee, sat by the window, with snow outside, and turned on my phone… It kept going beep beep beep as if I was receiving endless messages. I left the cup of coffee on the table and tried to mute my phone so that I do not wake up my husband and daughter. That was it!! Life stopped for I don’t know how long. I kept reading about messages asking if I’m okay and soon after I read the news about the devastating earthquake which happened and affected 10 different cities, almost a third of my country in terms of land. Tears fell from my eyes and since then haven’t stopped really!!
How can anyone in this position feel like they should stay in the city and not leave from there in order to help someone in need when they are themselves are in need. I’ve seen that. It’s heartbreaking.Ipek Senoglu
If anyone reading this would like to help, how can they do so?
Ipek Senoglu: From outside Turkey, the best way to help is through donations. There are some very reputed and trustworthy organizations that help the cause in different ways which includes
- AKUT – Voluntary NGO specialized in search and rescue. The link for the same is https://www.akut.org.tr/en/donation
- AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, Ministry of Interior Affairs). The link for the same is is https://en.afad.gov.tr/earthquake-humanitarian-aid-campaign
- AHBAP– Voluntary NGO specialized in overall relief programs (food, clothing, shelter etc.). The link for the same is https://ahbap.org
Tennis Majors: What are some of the things that you can do and cannot do on-site since the earthquake?
Ipek Senoglu: I’m not in that area because I’m not qualified to be there. A lot of volunteers went there as did my husband and his colleagues to help with generators and technical staff. Unfortunately, I could only help from outside the area by collecting things that people need such clothing, sanitary needs, tents, portable heaters and stoves).
Tennis Majors: You have been working and helping in the rescue efforts. What has that experience been like?
Ipek Senoglu: What I tried to help most is connecting families who want to host people who have lost their families and homes in that area. This experience is a life-teaching one yet one that I hope no one has to ever live with. On one side, you have families in cities outside the area who want to welcome people at their home and somehow help. On the other side, you have people who have lost everything in their life in less than 10 minutes and yet still feel like they should stay on ground, or at a park and not be a hassle for anyone. How can anyone in this position feel like they should stay in the city and not leave from there in order to help someone in need when they are themselves are in need. I’ve seen that. It’s heartbreaking. I was left speechless many times.
I really couldn’t understand how it is possible for tennis governing bodies not to take an action for an entire week up until yesterday- when they announced they have set up a global fund for Turkey and Syria.Ipek Senoglu
Question: What type of support have you received from your peers on the tennis tour?
Ipek Senoglu: The tennis world in my opinion have failed at this test. I’m emotional and therefore don’t want to say anything to hurt anyone but I really couldn’t understand how it is possible for tennis governing bodies not to take an action for an entire week up until yesterday- when they announced they have set up a global fund for Turkey and Syria. Other than tennis’ governing bodies, I was also disappointed very much by world’s top players, both on the men’s and women’s side, and their silence on the matter. Novak Djokovic on men’s side, and Victoria Azarenka, on the women’s side, sent some messages and that’s it!!
These colleagues on tour are very powerful with their social media and any supporting video or message or directing funds to the area would have really meant a lot both financially and mentally. Like in the Australian bushfires, like in Haiti, and like in Ukraine, the tennis world should and could have been more supporting towards my community. After all, natural disasters can happen anywhere. Today it’s my country and tomorrow who knows where. Hopefully never ever!! I’ve gotten individual messages from tennis players and WTA staff and the tennis press but top players should and could have led better. They are leaders of our sport. I also must say when I texted Patrick Mouratoglou, he immediately wanted to help anyway he can. I appreciate that!!
You posted a tweet yesterday saying that the ATP and WTA Tour had failed. Can you talk a little more about that and what you would like to see the tours do?
Ipek Senoglu: As I have explained earlier, I know they meant good and sincere help. But to put it all together took too long. I can’t grasp why it’s any different and late action was taken as compared to other disasters. Maybe I’m too upset to even think why. I’m sure more action will be taken to help. I appreciate it. We all do.
I want to say thank you to everyone who has come and risked their life to help one way or another, who have texted and asked if/how they can helpIpek Senoglu
What impact will this tragedy have on you as a person and in your life going forward, if you can feel it already?
Ipek Senoglu: I will never feel the same ever again. This is the second earthquake; I had lost relatives in 1999. I must say this one is nothing like the one I’ve seen before. To have earthquakes this big of a magnitude one after the other in the same area and happening during the night when people are at home and asleep and during winter and snow is something too huge for anyone to handle.
I’ve had people reaching me through social media to find their baby, to ask for their lost one, to find help one way or another. You try your best and keep crying and after that you start again and help again and fall asleep subconsciously with tears falling and wake up and look at your inbox to start all over again. You feel helpless and then find hope to help one more family and then you feel you couldn’t save another family when you hear you are too late, and they reached the dead body.
I also have to admit, rescue teams from around the world came to the area and helped Turkish people without considering what religion or nationality they are from. They helped and went under the rubbles risking their own life for someone they never met or will ever see again. I think we should all remember that the world would become a better place if we could find that unity, the humane side inside all of us more often and not allow some politicians to make us forget the love for each other. I want to say thank you to everyone who has come and risked their life to help one way or another, who have texted and asked if/how they can help. I also want to tell the tennis governing bodies the damage to the area and people is too big. So, during the spring tournaments (maybe Indian Wells since it is a combined ATP/ WTA event), there could be some kind of supporting event. It will take more than a year for the people to recover, if they ever can.