PARIS — Following her third-round victory at the French Open on Friday, Aryna Sabalenka chose not to attend the scheduled news conference, citing her own “mental health and well-being” as the reason for her decision.
Instead, Sabalenka opted to speak with a select group of journalists after her 6-2, 6-2 win against Kamilla Rakhimova. The Belarusian player explained that she did not feel secure during a news conference earlier in the week, where she faced inquiries regarding her country’s role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“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. “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.”
During Wednesday’s news conference, Sabalenka was confronted with questions regarding her stance on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and whether she would condemn the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. In response to both inquiries, she simply stated, “I’ve got no comments to you.”
“I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches,” Sabalenka said Friday. “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 discussed the negative reception she has encountered from fellow players at tournaments this season due to the ongoing war. In March, she expressed experiencing “hate” from individuals in the locker room without any apparent reason.
At the start of the French Open, Sabalenka faced Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk and emerged victorious. However, Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Sabalenka after the match, which resulted in boos from the Roland Garros crowd.
During her news conference on Sunday, Sabalenka addressed the incident and emphasized that neither Russian nor Belarusian athletes support the war.
She stated that it is inconceivable for anyone to endorse such a conflict, emphasizing that “normal people” would never back it.
When a reporter read a portion of Sabalenka’s comments to Kostyuk, the Ukrainian player responded by expressing her confusion as to why Sabalenka does not explicitly state that she personally does not support the war.
Additionally, on Friday, Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina declared that she would not shake hands with opponents from Russia and Belarus out of respect for the soldiers fighting on the front lines.
Svitolina’s refusal to shake hands with her Russian opponent, Anna Blinkova, during their French Open match led to some fans expressing their disapproval through boos.
“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,” Svitolina said. “Can you imagine the guy or girl in the front line looking at me and I am acting like nothing is happening?”
Amid the ongoing conflict in her home country, the 28-year-old tennis player has been persistently advocating for the banning of Russian and Belarusian players from international competitions. This strong stance against the invasion of her country has fueled Svitolina’s refusal to shake hands with opponents from these nations.
Svitolina’s decision to abstain from shaking hands is likely to be repeated in the upcoming match against ninth-seeded Russian player Daria Kasatkina in the fourth round. Kasatkina, who has distanced herself from Russia, has openly criticized the war, referring to it as a “nightmare.” Svitolina commended Kasatkina’s position, describing it as “truly courageous.”
Regarding Sabalenka’s choice to skip the news conference on Friday, it was a mutual decision made between her and the organizers of Roland Garros. A spokesperson from the French Tennis Federation confirmed that Sabalenka would not face any fines for her absence.
“It was to protect her,” the spokesperson said, adding that whether Sabalenka attends other news conferences would be her decision.