Aryna Sabalenka reveals she has been victim of 'hate' in WTA locker room over Ukraine war

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Sabalenka, who hails from Belarus, an ally of Russia in its war against Ukraine, is still allowed to compete in WTA events along with the rest of the Russian and Belarusian players, albeit under a neutral flag. The 24-year-old clinched her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January. That hasn't stopped her from being on the receiving end of a toxic environment in the dressing room, however, as many players - particularly those from Ukraine - are not happy with her ongoing presence. "It was really, really tough for me because I've never faced that much hate in the locker room," she said. "Of course, there are a lot of haters on Instagram when you're losing the matches, but like in the locker room, I've never faced that. "It was really tough for me to understand that there's so many people who really hate me for no reason, like no reason. I mean, like I did nothing." Evidence of the ongoing tension behind the scenes surfaced last week when Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko withdrew from her match against Sabalenka at the Indian Wells Open, handing her a walkover. Tsurenko said she suffered a panic attack following talks with WTA CEO Steve Simon as he did not show sufficient understanding for her concerns. Sabalenka previously revealed she has had tough conversations with the support staff of some players, and it is believed Tsurenko's coach Nikita Vlasov is one of them. "I had some, not like fights, but I had some weird conversations with, not the girls, but with members of their team. It was really, it was tough. It was a tough period. But, now it's getting better," she said.

Sabalenka is adamant, however, she bears no personal responsibility for the war in Ukraine, and doesn't believe she deserves to be the target of anyone's ire. "I was really struggling with that because I really felt bad, like I did something and it's still not so good in the locker room with some of the Ukrainian girls. But then I realised that it's not my fault and I did nothing bad to them. And I'm pretty sure that the rest of the Russian and Belarusian athletes did nothing to Ukrainians. "I just realised that this is all emotions and I just need to like ignore it and focus on myself with understanding that I did nothing bad. And I cannot control emotions of others." She added: "It seems like, everyone's just ignoring each other. "Not everyone actually, I'm still talking to some of the Ukrainians, but there are some of the girls who are like really aggressive against us. So I'm just staying away from that."

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For its part, the WTA agreed with Sabalenka's position in principle even as it again underlined its support for Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, saying in a statement: "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. 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 penalised due to the decisions made by the leadership of their country."

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