Last year, Sabalenka, a Belarusian player, was unable to participate in Wimbledon due to the ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian athletes, owing to their countries’ involvement in the Ukraine invasion. Watching the tournament on television brought her to tears.
As the second seed and a semifinalist in the 2021 edition, Sabalenka is considered one of the favorites this year. She shares her delight, stating, “I really missed this place. I can’t believe that I’m here.”
Reflecting on her absence from Wimbledon last year, Sabalenka reveals, “I didn’t watch Wimbledon a lot last year. I felt so bad. I was at home having a little vacation, then practicing. I just couldn’t watch it. Every time if Wimbledon would be on TV, I would cry, so I decided just to stay away from Wimbledon last year.”
During her pre-tournament news conference, Sabalenka emphasizes her focus on tennis and avoids discussing politics. At the French Open last month, she chose not to participate in open news conferences after facing uncomfortable questions from a Ukrainian reporter regarding her stance on the war.
To be eligible to participate in Wimbledon this year, Russian and Belarusian players had to sign a personal declaration of neutrality, refraining from expressing support for the invasion or their respective leaders, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
Sabalenka clarifies that she does not currently support President Lukashenko due to his endorsement of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine war. In response to Wimbledon’s decision to lift the ban on Russian and Belarusian players, the tournament pledged over £500,000 to Ukraine relief efforts, marking a challenging choice for the organizers.
Elina Svitolina, a prominent Ukrainian athlete and 2019 Wimbledon semifinalist, expresses gratitude to the UK for its support in their ongoing struggle against Russian forces.
When asked about her expectations regarding the Wimbledon crowd’s reception, Sabalenka humbly states, “I have no expectations. I only have hope that they will support me.”
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wimbledon return
Why was Aryna Sabalenka banned from Wimbledon last year?
Aryna Sabalenka, along with other Russian and Belarusian players, was banned from Wimbledon last year due to their countries’ involvement in the invasion of Ukraine.
How did Aryna Sabalenka feel about missing Wimbledon last year?
Aryna Sabalenka expressed that she was “super happy” to be back at Wimbledon this year after being reduced to tears while watching it on television last year. She felt bad about not being able to participate and decided to stay away from watching the tournament.
What is the condition for Russian and Belarusian players to participate in Wimbledon this year?
Russian and Belarusian players were required to sign a personal declaration of neutrality, abstaining from expressing support for the invasion or the leadership of their respective presidents, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, in order to be eligible for participation in Wimbledon this year.
Why did Aryna Sabalenka refuse to talk about politics at her pre-tournament news conference?
Aryna Sabalenka stated that she was there to talk about tennis only and requested respect for her decision to not discuss politics. This decision was likely influenced by a previous incident at the French Open, where she felt “unsafe” after being questioned by a Ukrainian reporter about her position on the war.
How did Wimbledon support Ukraine relief efforts?
Following the decision to lift the ban on Russian and Belarusian players, Wimbledon donated over £500,000 to Ukraine relief efforts as a gesture of support. This was a difficult decision for the organizers, considering the circumstances surrounding the ban.