Home Sport Wimbledon braced for fallout over Ukraine and Russian conflict

Wimbledon braced for fallout over Ukraine and Russian conflict

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The sporting fallout from the Russia/Ukraine conflict will likely be reflected in the tranquil surroundings of the All England Club in leafy south-west London when Wimbledon gets under way on Monday.

A view of centre court with Belarus's Aryna Sabalenka in action at Wimbledon.
FILE – Wimbledon gets underway on Monday. Photo: AFP

London – In 2013, Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky pulled off one of the greatest Wimbledon shocks when he demolished Roger Federer on Centre Court.

Ten years on, Stakhovsky has exchanged his tennis whites for army fatigues as he fights with the Ukraine military against the Russian invaders.

The sporting fallout from the conflict will likely be reflected in the tranquil surroundings of the All England Club in leafy south-west London when Wimbledon gets under way on Monday.

Twelve months ago, players from Russia and close ally Belarus were banned from Wimbledon, the only one of the four Grand Slam events to adopt such a hard-line response to the war.

They have been allowed to return this year although there is uncertainty as to how they will be greeted on court.

“We cannot control it,” admitted Russia’s world number three Daniil Medvedev, a former US Open champion.

“If people are going to decide to be harsh, it is what it is. If they’re going to be kind, it’s great also. So it’s not for us to decide.”

The bitter relations between Ukraine players on one side and Russian and Belarusian rivals on the other created a tournament-long sub-plot at the recent French Open.

Ukraine stars such as Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk were booed by the Paris crowd for refusing to shake hands with Belarusian world number two Aryna Sabalenka.

Kostyuk said the French crowd should be “embarrassed” by their jeers.

Svitolina defiantly vowed she would not “sell her country for likes” by shaking the hand of her Belarusian opponent.

Svitolina accused Sabalenka of deliberately inflaming tensions by making a point of waiting at the net in expectation of a handshake she knew would not be forthcoming at the end of their quarter-final.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka boycotted two rounds of media commitments at Roland Garros, claiming the avalanche of tough questions over her close links with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko meant she did not feel “safe”.

When she eventually returned to the press room, she denounced the ongoing war in Ukraine, adding that she could not support Lukashenko “for now”.

All Russian and Belarusian players taking part at Wimbledon this year have to sign a declaration of neutrality and demonstrate no links to state finance or sponsorship from companies under sanction.

Svitolina, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2019, does not expect the British crowd to turn on her or other Ukraine players when they continue their policy of not shaking hands.

“The support that we got from the UK was massive, and especially taking the case of Wimbledon last year and great support for Ukrainian people,” said the 28-year-old.”

“We are really thankful for them for taking the position.”

Sabalenka made the semi-finals on her last appearance in 2021 and is desperate for a peaceful fortnight.

“I really enjoy the atmosphere. I really missed Wimbledon last year,” said the 25-year-old. “Just can’t wait to come back and show my best tennis.”

Meanwhile, 2,500km away in Ukraine, Stakhovsky will be focused on the fighting rather than the memory of his win over Federer, clinched when he was a lowly 116 in the world and which he described as “magical”.

As part of a mortar unit, Stakhovsky has taken part in the battle for Bakhmut.

“Seeing bodies doesn’t matter to us anymore,” Stakhovsky told French sports daily, L’Equipe in the early stage of the war.

“Unfortunately, humans can adapt to anything. So, we adapt to the bombardments. We adapt to fear. And we adapt to death.”

AFP

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