Ukrainian star claims players are fighting to replicate Wimbledon ban

Marta Kostyuk has revealed that some Ukrainian players have been fighting to have Russians and Belarusians banned from competing in tennis tournaments. Wimbledon has so far been the only tournament to make the decision, barring them from the 2022 Championships.

Kostyuk has remained vocal about the impact of the Ukraine war since Russia invaded her home nation 13 months ago. The 20-year-old has refused to shake the hands of her Russian opponents on multiple occasions and said there was “tension” between players from the two nations.

And the world No 38 has now addressed the issue again in a conference call with athletes who are opposed to Russians and Belarusians being allowed to compete at the Olympics. It comes after the president of the International Olympic Committee referenced Kostyuk’s ATX Open final win over Russia’s Varvara Gracheva.

After Thomas Bach used the match to point out that Russians were competing alongside Ukrainians in other sports without issue – despite Kostyuk failing to shake Gracheva’s hand or pose for trophy photos with her – the Ukrainian star hit back. “My game was mentioned by Bach,” she said during the call.

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The world No 38 also argued that she was forced to play against her Russian colleagues or lose her tennis career, rubbishing Bach’s point that tennis was an example of athletes from the two nations playing together. She added: “We have a ranking system in our sport. If I don’t participate I will lose my ranking and my career will be over.”

Kostyuk then went on to make a big claim, revealing that she was among a group of players who had been privately pushing to ban Russian and Belarusian pros from competing. It’s something Wimbledon did last summer, though there have since been reports that the All England Club will allow the athletes back as neutrals this year.

“A lot has been said and I wanted to say from myself, we have not been doing it publicly, but for the last year we have been fighting to exclude Russians and Belarusians from our sport,” she said.

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And Kostyuk cited players’ status as competitors on the tennis tours as another reason why they were forced to compete alongside Russians. “Unfortunately we are not independent players. We are working for WTA and ATP organisations and we do not have a lot of power to make changes,” she continued.

Lesia Tsurenko also got involved, with the world No 81 recently hitting headlines after she pulled out of a match against Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka in Indian Wells. The Ukrainian pro claimed that she had been suffering with panic attacks after a “shocking” conversation with WTA boss Steve Simon, who told her not to be bothered by the opinions of her Russian rivals.

“It is an ethical conflict every time we play against them. It affected me so that I had kind of panic attacks,” Tsurenko said, referencing Indian Wells.

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