“I don’t support Lukashenko right now” – Sabalenka speaks out in press conference return

Aryna Sabalenka returned to the press conference set-up to take questions from journalists – even questions about Ukraine

Aryna Sabalenka Chryslene Caillaud/Panoramic

Aryna Sabalenka stood at the net as if waiting to shake Elina Svitolina’s hand following their quarter-final clash at Roland-Garros.

The Belarusian must have known that the Ukrainian would reject such a gesture; at least, Svitolina thought so, saying afterwards, “My statements [previously] were clear enough about the handshake,” but then adding, generously, “Maybe she’s not on social media during the tournaments.”

Sabalenka: I don’t want sport to be involved in politics

The world No 2 has shied away not just from social media this fortnight, but the media at large, not speaking to a press conference after either her third- or fourth-round match, saying she did not feel safe in such an environment after an angry exchange with a Ukrainian reporter after the second round. Instead, she answered questions from a limited pool of invited journalists.

However, after the quarter-final, she returned to the press conference environment and had plenty to say.

Dismissing her wait at the net as “an instinct, like I always do after all my matches,” she even took a question about having photographs taken with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko.

“We played a lot of Fed Cups in Belarus. He was in our matches taking pictures with us after the match. Nothing bad was happening that time in Belarus or in Ukraine or in Russia.

“And I said it many times already, I’m not supporting war. I don’t want my country to be involved in any conflict. I said it many times, and you know where I stand, you know. You have my position. You have my answer. I answered it many times. I’m not supporting the war.

“And the thing that I don’t want sport to be involved in politics, because I’m just a tennis player, 25-[year]-old tennis player. And if I would like to be political I wouldn’t be here. I don’t want to be involved in any politics. I just want to be a tennis player.”

Sabalenka: I couldn’t fall asleep

Pushed further on whether she supported Lukashenko, she replied: “I don’t support war, meaning I don’t support Lukashenko right now.”

And asked why she had changed her mind on taking part in press conferences, she answered: “I always really respect press conference. I’m always open in my answers. I really felt bad not coming here. I couldn’t sleep. Like all those bad feelings was in my head, I couldn’t fall asleep. I felt really bad not coming here. I really respect all of you guys. Thank you so much for coming here, for being interested in me.”

However, Sabalenka’s association with Lukashenko has been well documented. They met in November 2018, apparently at the player’s request, and since then she has gone on record praising him.

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