Wimbledon ban left Belarusian pro thinking Ukraine war was ‘her fault’

Aryna Sabalenka has revealed that she was left feeling like the war in Ukraine was “her fault” following backlash that Belarusian and Russian tennis players faced – including being banned from Wimbledon. The Australian Open champion shared her hopes to play Wimbledon this year following reports that the ban would be dropped. But the All England Club says a decision hasn’t been made yet.

Sabalenka was one of many top players affected by Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian stars last year. The 24-year-old was ranked No 6 in the world when the grass-court Grand Slam took place in 2022 but couldn’t compete after the AELTC moved to bar all players from the two nations in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

And the Belarusian pro has reached even bigger heights since then, lifting her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January and returning to her career-high ranking of No 2. It makes Sabalenka an even bigger title contender at Wimbledon this year if she is able to play. And the 12-time title winner has expressed her hopes to be back at SW19 while explaining the toll last year’s ban took on her.

“Well, to be honest, I am trying to stay away from this,” Sabalenka told reporters in Indian Wells after the Daily Mail reported that Wimbledon would not ban Russian and Belarusian players this year – something the club has not confirmed. “Last year, it was super painful for me and I was really worried about that but this year, I mean, I cannot control it.”

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If the reports are true, it will come as good news to the world No 2 who expressed her wish to return to the site of her first Grand Slam semi-final appearance in 2021. “They will do whatever they want to and I really hope that we are going to playing there,” Sabalenka continued.

“I like the tournament, it’s a beautiful place, I like the crowd. I really miss the people there because it’s really enjoyable playing in front of fans there. So yeah, I really hope they’re going to let us play. If not, then what can I do?”

While the Aussie Open winner tried to take a relaxed stance on the matter, she revealed that the backlash Belarusian players faced last year left her feeling as though she was to blame for the war. All Russian and Belarusian players have competed as neutrals since last March, while their national teams have been banned from the Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Cup and United Cup events.

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Sabalenka explained: “Before, I was really worried about that and I didn’t really know what to do and I really thought that this situation was my fault, you know? Like, the reaction of people to some different things made me feel really bad but then I realized that this is not under my control and I did nothing bad against Ukrainian people.

The 24-year-old has since come to a new realisation, adding: “So yeah, this is not my fault, zero control in this situation. Unfortunately, we’re somehow invited in all this.”

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