Tsurenko’s withdrawal ‘more than politics’ as Sabalenka responds

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Aryna Sabalenka has responded after Lesia Tsurenko pulled out of their Indian Wells clash earlier this week. The Ukrainian pro revealed she was suffering from “panic attacks” after a “shocking” conversation with WTA boss Steve Simon about the war in her country. But the Belarusian world No 2 claimed that there was a bigger reason for Tsurenko’s withdrawal.

Tsurenko reignited the conversation about the Ukraine war in tennis this week when she pulled out of her Indian Wells match against Belarus’ Sabalenka. The 33-year-old later told Great Tennis Ukraine that she had been struggling after sharing her feelings over the Russian and Belarusian players with WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon.

Her comments led to responses from the WTA and Simon himself as well as world No 1 Iga Swiatek and Russian star Daniil Medvedev who called for “peace”. And Sabalenka herself has now responded for the first time since Tsurenko pulled out of their match at the last minute, showing sympathy for the Ukrainians but claiming the world No 95’s withdrawal was for a different reason.

“Well, listen, nobody can control emotions of others, you know. And I think WTA are doing their best to kind of control it,” the 24-year-old said after her semi-final win over Maria Sakkari. The Aussie Open champion also hinted that she was “helping” in private, adding: “Yeah, of course it’s a lot of tension between us.

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“I mean, I still have this belief that I did nothing bad to Ukraines; not me, not Russian athletes, not Belarusian athletes, not one of us did something bad. Even some of us are like helping. Like not like, how to say, publicly, yes.” The world No 2 then confessed that she had struggled but thought nobody would believe her as a Belarusian.

Sabalenka continued: “So what else I can say? I think WTA are doing really great job to support both sides, and whatever — I mean, I cannot control their emotions. I was through so many bad things, and unfortunately, I’m not able to say that because who gonna believe Belarusian girl.

“I mean, talking about her coach. I have been through also through hell, and I understand that… I don’t know. The more I’m talking, the better I just stop.” Turning her attention back to Tsurenko, Sabaleka continued to hint that the Ukrainian’s coach was actually behind her withdrawal, saying it was “more than” just the politics.

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“Yeah, I mean, I think Tsurenko withdraw, there was more than panic attack or more than political situation,” the second seed in Indian Wells said. “I think there is something more. I had really tough situation last year with her coach the way he act to me. So I think that guy put so much pressure on her, and that’s why that happen.

“It’s nothing to do with WTA. I mean, they are doing their best job. What they can do? Nobody of us have this control in this situation. All of us just trying to, you know, keep the calmest in the locker room and keep understanding that there is no our fault and that all of us understand Ukrainians, and we really feel bad for them, you know. That’s it. I think I said a lot.”

Sabalenka’s comments come after Tsurenko’s coach Nikita Vlasov gave an in-depth interview to Tribuna following the world No 95’s withdrawal and said his charge had only publicly revealed “10 per cent of everything that happened”. Vlasov also described Sabalenka as “a tennis player who supports the Lukashenka regime and has never spoken out against the war in a year” before adding: “She even made it clear that this was normal for her, she was not doing anything wrong.”

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