Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka decided on Friday to skip the traditional press conference following her third-round win at the French Open in a decision she deemed necessary for her “mental health and well-being.”
Per ESPN, Sabalenka did speak with a small group of journalists, saying that she didn’t feel safe at Wednesday’s press conference when she was pressed with questions about her country’s involvement in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the 2023 Australian Open winner was asked if she supported Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and whether or not she denounced the invasion of Ukraine. She responded “I’ve got no comments to you” on both occasions.
“After my match [on Wednesday], I spoke with the media like I normally do. I know they still expect some questions that are more about the politics and not so much about my tennis,” Sabalenka said on Friday. “For many months now, I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts. These questions do not bother me after my matches. I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday, I did not feel safe in the press conference.
“I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches. For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision.
“It hasn’t been an easy few days, and now my focus is continue to play well here in Paris.”
Sabalenka has previously said that she feels as though she has been treated unfairly by competitors, noting in March that she felt “hate” in the locker room “for no reason.”
On Monday, when asked about the perception that she had not condemned the war, Sabalenka tried to defend herself.
“Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war,” said Sabalenka. “Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody — normal people — will never support it.”
Aryna Sabalenka was told by the interviewer that she’s ‘twisting it’ as if Ukrainians hate her & was asked if she condemns the war
“Nobody in this world, Russian or Belarusian athletes support the war. How can we? Normal people will never support it.”
— The Tennis Letter (@TheTennisLetter) May 28, 2023
After the Belarusian defeated Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in the first round of the French Open, Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Sabalenka. After hearing Sabalenka’s comments from Monday, the Ukrainian noted that the Belarusian never said that “she personally doesn’t support this war.”
On Friday, Ukrainian Elina Svitolina told reporters that she will not shake hands with any Russian or Belarusian opponents out of respect for Ukrainian soldiers currently fighting.
“I am Ukrainian. I am standing for my country, doing anything possible to support men and women who are right now in the front line fighting for our land, our country,” said Svitolina, who refused to shake hands with Russia’s Anna Blinkova after defeating her in the fourth round. “Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening?”
Belarus has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and allowed the country to use it as a staging ground for troops and weapons.
A French Tennis Federation spokesperson told Reuters that Sabalenka would not be fined for skipping Friday’s press conference.
The decision to skip Friday’s news conference was made between Sabalenka and Roland Garros organizers, and a French Tennis Federation spokesperson told Reuters that Sabalenka would not be fined.
“It was to protect her,” the spokesperson said, noting that Sabalenka’s attendance at future French Open news conferences would be up to her.