Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka on Tuesday said she struggled to understand the “hate” she encountered in the locker room amid strained relations between some players following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The world No. 2 has previously said she has nothing against Ukrainians and felt bad for them as Moscow’s action rages on. Belarus has been a staging area for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.”
“It was really tough for me because I’ve never faced that much hate in the locker room,” Sabalenka said ahead of the Miami Open. “There are a lot of haters on Instagram when you’re losing matches, but in the locker room I’ve never faced that.”
“It was really tough to understand that there’s so many people who hate me for no reason. I did nothing,” she said.
Australian Open champion Sabalenka on Sunday lost in the final of the BNP Paribas Open to Elena Rybakina.
In comments at the tournament in Indian Wells, California, Sabalenka had said she had been in a dispute with Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko’s coach Nikita Vlasov.
Tsurenko was due to play Sabalenka at the tournament, but withdrew before their match.
The Ukrainian said she had a “panic attack” and had also been upset with a conversation about the war and the position of Russian and Belarusian players with WTA CEO Steve Simon.
Sabalenka said she had been having “weird conversations” with members of some players’ teams in the last year.
“It was really tough, but now it’s getting better,” she said.
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek has called for more support to be offered to Ukrainian players, saying the tennis leadership was not doing enough, but two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus said that was not the case.
“There are certain players that have different feelings and behaviors. Overall, I don’t necessarily share the same opinion as Iga does,” Azarenka said.
“I’d encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments. As a player council member I’m happy to provide the facts. That would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation,” she said.
Additional reporting by AFP
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