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Tennis-It’s like we do not exist, says Ukrainian Kostyuk

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PARIS — Kyiv-born Marta Kostyuk criticized the WTA players’ council on Tuesday for failing to consult Ukrainian players on the decision to strip Wimbledon of ranking points, and branded Belarusian Victoria Azarenka’s place among the council members “ridiculous.”

The men’s and women’s tennis governing bodies last week took away ranking points from the grasscourt Grand Slam after its organizers decided to exclude players from Russia and Belarus in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Ranking points determine a player’s ability to enter events and receive seedings, so stripping them from Wimbledon effectively reduces the event to an exhibition tournament.

The council, which is made up of current players who act as a voice for athletes on tour with the governing body, supported the WTA’s decision to strip ranking points from Wimbledon, with American member Sloane Stephens saying that the decision was not “taken lightly”.

The 19-year-old Kostyuk, however, said she fully supported Wimbledon’s decision to not allow players from Russia and Belarus to compete.

“I would say 80-85% of the players had nothing to do with the (WTA) decision,” she told Reuters in an interview after her first-round defeat to Mayar Sherif in the French Open on Tuesday. “It’s so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it.

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“None of the players’ representatives contacted me. None of them asked about my opinion, what I think. It’s like Ukrainian players don’t exist.

“I’ve been trying to be as vocal as possible but you feel hopeless most of the time about the situation. I’m still 19. What can I say? It’s not easy.”

When asked whether the council did enough in general to reach out to players, American Jessica Pegula, another member of the body, said emails to competitors were often missed but that the council members were “always available.”

Russia and Belarus are banned from tennis team competitions following the invasion but their players are allowed to compete as neutrals. Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a ‘special operation’.

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‘IT’S RIDICULOUS’

Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic and 21-times major champion Rafa Nadal have both criticized Wimbledon’s stand.

“I want my fellow players to support and understand the situation and be vocal on some things as well,” said Kostyuk, thanking Poland’s world number one Iga Swiatek for her support for Ukraine.

“But I mean, look at what Rafa said, look at what Novak said. How can you get the support from the tour when top three players say these things?

“Victoria Azarenka is in the players’ board, making decisions about points in Wimbledon, where she’s not even participating. And saying that she has no personal interest in making decisions. Just the fact that she’s present there on the calls, doing whatever. It’s ridiculous.”

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Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka is one of the eight members on the WTA player council and said on Monday that her role on the council was to try to “find a compromise, because a lot of players are affected.”

Kostyuk, who has managed to get her family out of Ukraine, said her mental health has suffered due to the “nightmare” and she currently works with two psychologists.

She walked off in the middle of her doubles match with partner Elena-Gabriela Ruse in the Italian Open this month against the Russian pair of Veronika Kudermetova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“I started crying on love-three,” said Kostyuk, who is ranked 66th in the world. “Before the match, I was really pumped, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna win and when I went on court, I felt so weird.

“I started crying and I started talking to my coaches. I said I cannot be here, I don’t know why I’m playing. I have to win to be heard, but I don’t because there are other problems on the other side, which I’m facing. So a lot of pressure around.

“Suddenly there were way bigger things in life than tennis. I don’t think a lot of people faced what I’ve been facing.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Toby Davis)

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