Aryna Sabalenka opens up about facing ‘hate’ in locker room

MIAMI (AFP): Aryna Sabalenka, the second-ranked women’s tennis player in the world from Belarus, recently revealed that she has encountered hostility in the women’s tour locker-room. Despite this, she remains optimistic that the tensions between players from Belarus and Ukraine will subside over time.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka lost to Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in Sunday’s Indian Wells final and at the media day for this week’s ATP-WTA Miami Open was asked about her recent comments on “tensions” in the locker-room between Ukrainian and Russian and Belarus players.

“It was really, really tough for me because I’ve never faced that much hate in the locker room,” said Sabalenka.

“Of course, there are a lot of haters on Instagram when you’re losing the matches, but like in the locker room, I’ve never faced that,” she added.

“It was really tough for me to understand that there’s so many people who really hate me for no reason, like no reason. I mean, like I did nothing,” she said.

Sabalenka said sometimes the tension had gone beyond awkward silences and abrupt conversations.

“I had some, not like fights, but I had some weird conversations with, not the girls, but with members of their team. It was really, it was tough. It was tough period. But, now it’s getting better,” she said.

In comments at Indian Wells Sabalenka had said she had been in a dispute with Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko’s coach Nikita Vlasov.

Tsurenko was due to play Sabalenka at Indian Wells 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.

Still not so good

Sabalenka said she had found it hard to deal with the locker-room atmosphere initially.

“I was really struggling with that because I really felt bad, like I did something and it’s still not so good in the locker room with some of the Ukrainian girls. But then I realised that it’s not my fault and I did nothing bad to them. And I’m pretty sure that the rest of the Russian and Belarusian athletes did nothing to Ukrainians,” she said.

“I just realized that this is all emotions and I just need to like ignore it and focus on myself with understanding that I did nothing bad. And I cannot control emotions of others,” she said.

“It seems like, everyone’s just ignoring each other,” she said.

“Not everyone actually, I’m still talking to some of the Ukrainians, but there are some of the girls who are like really aggressive against us. So I’m just staying away from that,” added Sabalenka.

Poland’s world number one Iga Swiatek has criticised the WTA for not doing enough to support Ukrainian players saying that “everything we discuss in tennis is about Belarusian and Russian players.”

Another Belarusian player, two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, said she disagreed with that view.

“Obviously there is certain players that have different feelings and behaviors. Overall I don’t necessarily share the same opinion as Iga does. I would encourage her to look at the things that have been done before she makes comments,” said Azarenka, who is a member of the WTA Players Council.

“Obviously as a player council (member) I am happy to provide all those facts that have been done. And I think that would be a more appropriate way to have that conversation,” she added.

The Russian and Belarusian players were barred from last year’s Wimbledon tournament by the British organisers but Sabalenka said she is hoping for a change of heart for this year’s tournament.

“I was really sad about the decision (last year), but I cannot control their decision. And I just really hope that they will let us play this year,” she said.