Lesia Tsurenko said Monday her abrupt withdrawal from the Indian Wells hard court tournament was due to a panic attack shortly before she was to take on Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.
Tsurenko told the Big Tennis of Ukraine portal that the overwhelming emotions came days after she was “shocked” by a conversation with WTA chief executive Steve Simon in which they discussed ongoing tensions in the game as a result of the Russian invasion of her country.
“The reason for the refusal was a panic attack,” Tsurenko said of her failure to take the court for her third-round match.
“Officially, it will be written as “personal reasons,” but in fact it was breathing problems and, one might say, hysteria.”
More than a year after Russia – backed by ally Belarus – invaded Ukraine, tennis continues to grapple with the war’s effects on the sport.
Russian and Belarusian players are barred from competing under their national flags by both the WTA and ATP, but Ukrainian players can still find themselves facing them at tournaments.
Earlier this month British media reported that the ban imposed by Wimbledon on Russian and Belarusian players last year would likely be lifted for this year’s tournament.
“A few days ago, I had a conversation with our WTA CEO Steve Simon, and I was absolutely shocked by what I heard,” Tsurenko told BTU. “He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if players from Russia and Belarus support it, it is only their own opinion, and the opinion of other people should not upset me.”
Tsurenko, said the conversation had caused her and other Ukrainian players to question Simon’s position, and they had asked for a conference call with the WTA board of directors.
Tsurenko, who has lost by retirement or walkover in nine of her 18 tournaments dating back to Indian Wells last year, said she and other Ukrainian players had requested a conference call with the WTA Board of Directors “to raise the question of how a person like Steve Simon can be a leader in the WTA and what should we do about it.”
The WTA responded to Tsurenko’s comments with a statement on Monday.
“First and foremost, we acknowledge the emotions Lesia and all of our Ukrainian athletes have and continue to manage during this very difficult period of time,” the tour said.
“We are witnessing an ongoing horrific war that continues to bring unforeseen circumstances with far reaching consequences that are affecting the world, as well as the global WTA Tour and its members.
“The WTA has consistently reflected our full support for Ukraine and strongly condemn the actions that have been brought forth by the Russian Government.
“With this, a fundamental principle of the WTA remains, which is ensuring that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination, and not penalized due to the decisions made by the leadership of their country.”