The Ukrainian tennis player Lesia Tsurenko said she backs Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian players from this year’s tournament after she was met with “silence” on the invasion of her home country by people she considered friends.
Tsurenko progressed to the third round of the women’s draw after recovering to beat her compatriot Anhelina Kalinina 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an emotional contest on Wednesday afternoon. Wearing a yellow and blue ribbon, in a break with the tournament’s longstanding all-white rules, the pair were cheered on by a crowd waving flags reading: “We stand with Ukraine.”
Speaking after the match, the 33-year-old said she agreed with the ban. “It’s just a step,” she said. “[But] it’s a good step to show that that’s what we all have to do. I am Ukrainian. There is no other opinion in my head.”
Tsurenko said that in other circumstances she might have supported the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian players in the competition. “I would be the first one to say that, no, you should not ban them. But I have heard only from one Belarusian player and from one Russian player, who talked to me personally and told me: ‘I’m against the war.’
“I have heard one Belarusian and one Russian player. I did not hear anything from any other player,” Tsurenko said, as her voice began to be affected by her emotions. “So for me, the silence means … I mean, it’s not good when … I don’t know. I thought I had a lot of friends on tour, especially from Russians and Belarusians.”
Tsurenko revealed that as a child she had been forced to flee her home in Georgia because of the Russian invasion of the country in 1993. Speaking of the “28 years” her life had been affected by Russian militarism she called for the international community to continue the support for Ukraine, where she was born.
“On New Year’s night, from 1992 to 1993, we escaped from Georgia, because it was a war there,” Tsurenko said. “This war was made by Russia, so for me it is the second time when my family is affected by Russian government, by the actions of the Russian government. It’s 28 years for me personally since the first time that it affected my family.
“So somehow it should stop. This is my opinion. If there is something that every person in this world can do, I think it’s good if they do it. If they think that to donate $10 means nothing, no, it’s not true. It means a lot. In the city, in the main city of my region, Mykolaiv region, they don’t have water for few months already. So if you think that $10 is nothing, it is 10 bottles of water for these people.
“So sanctions have a reason. Sportsmen got banned for a reason. Russia should be stopped. That’s my opinion. And I feel very sorry for countries like Ukraine, for countries like Georgia, and it’s not like I don’t feel bad about other conflicts in the world. I just think that Russia is doing too much, you know. It’s too much.”
After the start of her contest with Kalinina was delayed by an hour and a half because of rain, the two women were greeted warmly on to Court 12. A small group of Ukrainian tennis fans were there to cheer both on, but the crowd at large got behind Tsurenko as she came back from a slow start to grab hold of the match.
Broken in her first service game by the 29th seed Kalinina, Tsurenko was unable to claw back momentum as her rival closed out the set. But despite moments when she seemed to lose patience with herself, and a series of terse interactions with the umpire, Tsurenko got on top of her game, while Kalinina’s powerful hitting began to fall apart.
There was break and counter-break in the second before, in the most compelling spell of play in the match, Tsurenko turned the screw. At 5-4 in the second she drove a fierce forehand winner from the back of the court to signal her determination. A series of errors from Kalinina then surrendered the crucial break.
Broken again in the first service game of the third set, Tsurenko this time bounced back, serving confidently for the rest of the match while putting consistent pressure on her rival. She broke back at 2-3 and then again at 4-3 and served out the match gracefully – on the final point she sent Kalinina around the court before driving a deft forehand winner down the line.
“I think it was a very tough match, and probably not the best from me, but Anhelina played very good from beginning of the match, and I think this put me in trouble,” Tsurenko said. “So I was just fighting. I was just, you know, staying, and I showed her that I will not give up. So I think that was the key.”