Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Players united in calls for peace – updated with governing bodies’ statement, Svitolina latest, official calls for Medvedev ban

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has shocked the tennis world, with Elina Svitolina among those expressing their fears and concern, while players from Russia and Ukraine continue to call for the war to stop

The Yastremska sisters The Yastremska sisters (photo from Dayana Yastresmka on Twitter)

Their world will never be the same again. There will still be victories, defeats, perhaps even some upset line judges, coaches or journalists; but Ukraine’s tennis players have seen their lives turned upside down with the Russian invasion of their country and the ongoing siege of the capital, Kyiv.

Iga Swiatek‘s trembling voice after her victory in Doha on Saturday as she spoke of her shock at the atrocities so close to her homeland, Poland, illustrated the horror felt by the world of tennis, the most globalised individual sport on the planet.

Ukrainians now find themselves facing heartbreakingly tough decisions, just like 21-year-old Dayana Yastremska. The current world No 120, who was with her family at home in Odessa, Ukraine, finally left the country at her parents’ request, fleeing by boat with her younger sister on Friday 25 February. She later posted an emotional message on Instagram and detailed her sleepless nights to L’Equipe on Saturday evening.

“After spending two nights in the underground parking ,my parents made a decision at any cost to send me and my little sister out of Ukraine! Mom,Dad ,we love you very much, take care of yourself!!! I love you my country! Ukrainians take care of your lives.”

Yastremska explained that she had arrived safely in France with her little sister, after four nights of almost no sleep and worry. “Our father told my sister and me: ‘Build a new life and always stay together. And remember that, whatever happens, Ukraine is your motherland.’ I burst into tears.”

Yastremska has received a wild card for the Lyon tournament, where she will face Ana Bogdan in the first round on Tuesday. The Yastremska sisters will play doubles together in Lyon on Monday, which is bound to be an emotional occasion.

Svitolina devastated, Stakhovsky takes up arms

Recently retired Sergiy Stakhovsky, 36, a former Top 50 player and still 240th on the ATP rankings, has hung up his racquets but says he will now be in action on the battlefield. In an interview with Sky Sports, the Ukrainian revealed that he had joined the army to defend his homeland against the Russians, despite lacking military experience. Tearfully, Stakhovsky gave more details about his decision.

“The army opened up the reserves and everybody who is willing to fight, to come in and collect the weapons and be part of the territorial resistance.

“There’s plenty of people in them. I’ve actually signed up for the reserves last week on Saturday. I just didn’t have enough documents to sign the contract.

“Now they cancelled that procedure and basically everybody who is motivated enough can join.”

In a message on social media on Monday, Stakhovsky also thanked all those players who have been wishing him support since his announcement.

Stakhovsky is unlikely to be the only tennis player caught up in the crisis. Other famous Ukrainian sportsmen have also announced that they are going to the front, such as boxer Vitali Klitschko, who has become a prominent politician and mayor of Kyiv. Alex Dolgopolov, also a young retiree, is filling his Twitter account with real-time news and patriotic messages. Ukraine has 14 men in the top 1000 in the world, although none in the top 200.

The women’s game is much richer, with seven players in the top 150 on the WTA Tour and one flag bearer of international renown. Elina Svitolina, the world No 15, also spoke out, first on social networks and then in an interview with Sky Sports. The 27-year-old is very worried about her family and friends.

I’m really praying every single minute for my family, for my friends, for all people in Ukraine and around the world for safety, for peace

Elina Svitolina

“I’m shocked at this terrible nightmare,” Svitolina told Sky Sports News. “I’m really praying every single minute for my family, for my friends, for all people in Ukraine and around the world for safety, for peace.

“Considering what people are going through in Ukraine and what my family are going through while being in Ukraine and friends, I try to keep in contact with them to see what’s happening there.

“I’m very safe compared to them. To be honest with you, I’m only thinking about them and for me, it’s a very stressful time because I cannot do anything. I cannot really help them. I wish I could help them. It’s extremely tough mentally for me. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I’m just praying.

“It’s a horrible situation for the people in Ukraine, what they have to go through without sleepless nights, without food and electricity so that’s horrible. For me, it’s heartbreaking to hear this.

“The war is something we have to stop and it’s something better than anything else. What is happening is very tough for me to imagine.”

Governing bodies to take action against Russian and Belarusian players

On Monday, Svitolina made a further plea for peace and promised to give all her prize money at upcoming tournaments in aid of Ukraine – but added that she would not be playing any Russian or Belarusian player, meaning that she was willing to withdraw from her forthcoming tournament in Monterrey, where she had been drawn against Anastasia Potapova.

She called on the ATP, WTA and ITF to take on board the International Olympic Committee’s recommendations to instruct Russian and Belarusian athletes to play only as neutral athletes, with no national flags, anthems, symbols and colours.

She added: “I do not blame any of the Russian athletes. They are not responsible for the invasion of our motherland.”

And on Tuesday, the ITF, ATP and WTA issued a joint statement, confirming that Russia and Belarus were suspended from both the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, and that although individuals could still compete, they could not do so under the name or flag of their country. That means that Svitolina will now be competing in Monterrey.

Of course, such a measure will have an impact on the new men’s world No 1, Daniil Medvedev. Seva Kevlych, board member of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation, called on Medvedev in particular to be banned from Grand Slams forthwith. In an interview with beIN Sports, he said that such a measure would remove the world No 1 status from him in due course.

Rublev’s message heard around the world

The Russians, for their part, are aware of their role as opinion leaders and called overwhelmingly for unity and peace as their government launched the first offensives in Ukraine. The strongest and most symbolic message came from the current world No 7, Andrey Rublev. After his victory over Hubert Hurkacz in the semi-finals of the Dubai tournament, the Moscow native signed the camera with this message: “No war please”.

“In these moments you realise that my match is not important. So it’s not about my match, how [it affects] me, because what’s happening is much more terrible. You realise how important it is to have peace in the world and to respect each other no matter what and to be united.

“We should take care of our earth and of each other. This is the most important thing.”

By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world

Daniil Medvedev

His compatriot, who became world No 1 on the exact day of Vladimir Putin’s offensive, Daniil Medvedev, shared this opinion on Friday in a press conference after his quarter-final win at the Acapulco tournament. The Russian is sad to see this situation between his country and Ukraine and called for peace in the world.

“By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world.

“We play in so many different countries. I’ve been in so many different countries as a junior and as a pro. It’s just not easy to hear all this news. I’m all for peace.” He added a personal statement, Sunday, calling for “peace between countries”.

His wife appeared in the stands in Acapulco wearing a top with Ukraine’s colours on the collar.

ITF suspends tournaments in Russia

The war between Russia and Ukraine has so far had no obvious impact on the ATP and WTA Tour, but it has had an impact on the lower level. On Friday 25 February 2022, the ITF issued a statement on Twitter announcing the suspension of Futures tournaments in Russia until further notice.

“Our first and foremost priority is to protect the safety of tennis players and all those who travel to and participate in ITF events. We will continue to monitor this situation closely and review it on an ongoing basis. Any further course of action will be decided on the basis of a thorough risk assessment and the advice we receive from security experts and relevant authorities.”

None of the tournaments on the WTA calendar scheduled for the rest of 2022 are due to take place in Russia, unlike the ATP 250 tournament in Moscow, scheduled for 17-23 October.

War may affect Russian players, too

Russian players may yet be affected by the events in Ukraine, too, at least if the Ukrainian Tennis Federation has its way. On Sunday, it wrote to the ITF and Tennis Europe, asking for the Russian and Belarus Federations to be expelled.

On Monday, Russian player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova added her voice to those calling for peace, asking those involved to “stop the violence, stop the war”.

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