Poignant Calls for Peace at Wimbledon

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Photo by Getty

By Bill Simons

WIMBLEDON

Humans get used to everything – even war. And after five long months, the Ukrainian invasion seems old, maybe even boring. Our attention drifts, the news cycle goes on.

But within the high, ivy walls of Wimbledon, Ukrainian players have spoken up with a sense of loss. They share poignant messages of sorrow and rage, and calls for help. Anhelina Kalinina, who is No. 34 in the world and was born in Nova Kakhovka, Ukraine, has grandparents who are in Russian occupied territory. She said that she has been on the road since the war broke out in February. She confided it has been “impossibly difficult to concentrate, especially when everything just happened out of nowhere in February.”

Lesia Tsurenko, 33, said, “I don’t feel good. Every time my area of the city gets bombed, I think of when the war started, I feel this tension inside of me. Even if I work every day with a psychologist and try to avoid these emotions, it’s impossible. This tension will only be released when the war will finish. There’s nothing I can do…Winning or losing doesn’t exist anymore. For me, there is a big issue in my life: it’s war. And there is nothing else.”

As for her interactions with Russians and Belarusians, Tsurnko said, “I don’t feel good seeing them.” She noted that just one Belarusian and one Russian player have been supportive and she hadn’t heard from any other Russians or Belarusians who are against the war

Marta Kostyuk, No. 49, said, “I’m adapting. I feel a lot of people have adapted…I don’t think it will get better as long as the war is going on…Personally, my mental state…it’s a roller coaster…There are huge holes in my parents house. There are no apartments anymore. They live like many other Ukrainians, on the bags. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow…Everything looks like sometimes quiet. But then yesterday there were two rockets in Kyiv.”

Kostyk, 19, said, “Sport has always been politics…Countries like Russia and China are extremely political…They use their athletes. Honestly…when someone says sport is out of politics, it’s really stupid.” 

The Ukrainians supported Wimbledon’s ban, but opposed the WTA’s stripping of ranking points and didn’t understand why players didn’t rise up as one to oppose that move.

To Kalinina, “We can’t compare WTA points, when many millions of people are killed, still dying, and how many refugees are surviving, with mothers with their kids and people are out of money, out of family, out of their jobs. They don’t have anything. They are like homeless…Helping other families and other people…It’s a privilege to play here…You earn more money. Then I’m able to help.”

Today Tsurenko was adamant. She said, “Again, there were horrible things going on in the last week, [a] terrorist act, a lot of civilians dead. Especially, it’s very painful for me to see that Russian propaganda is saying that…that shopping mall in Kremenchuk was not working. That’s a lie.” Tsurenko said her fitness coach’s mother-in-law works in that shopping area and his father got “like some piece in his head…and fell down. It’s just horrible … I feel terrible, very guilty…I feel there is nothing I can do. I donate 10% of my prize money.”

Tsurenko explained that in 1993, when she was three or four, her family escaped from the country, due to war. “This war was made by Russia. For me [Ukraine] is the second time my family has been affected…by the actions of Russian government…So it should be stopped…It’s too much.”

She suggested that giving just $10 would mean a lot. “If they think donating $10 means nothing, it’s not true…In the main city of my region…they don’t have water for a few months already. So $10 is 10 bottles of water for these people.

“I have been at the Polish border…and I saw hundreds, thousands of people. They just don’t know where they go. They have all their life in two bags. They have kids, maybe a grandfather, a grandmother with them, and some [are] also disabled. And they are lost. So any support that you give to Ukrainians is amazing.”

*****

BIG WIN FOR BIG JOHN: John Isner, who had lost eight straight times without a single win against Andy Murray, beat the Brit, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, to advance to the third round, where he’ll meet Jannik Sinner. Never mind that the crowd yelled, “Hit the ball, Ahn-dee!” – Isner blasted 38 aces and was superb at net. The big guy had soft hands and handled Murray’s low dipping blasts with ease. In their eight previous matches, Isner had broken Murray’s serve just once. Today he broke the Scot twice.

Isner told the crowd, “It’s no secret that I am not a better tennis player than Andy Murray.” Isner called the 35-year-old with one hip, “a massive inspiration in the locker room…[but today] I didn’t give him an opportunity to spin his web and get entangled in it.”

The 2018 Wimbledon semifinalist said that these days, memories of his great marathon match with Nicolas Mahut have been more like nightmares. He told the crowd that today’s match “could be at the very top” when it comes to his Wimbledon matches.

Murray wasn’t the only British icon to lose today. Emma Raducanu, the 2021 US Open, champion fell to Caroline Garcia, who’s won seven straight matches on grass. By the way, yesterday France’s Harmony Tan downed the pride of America, Ms. Serena. Today it was Frenchwoman Garcia’s turn to deflate the pride of Britain. But remember, Emma’s just 19.

No. 2 seed Estonian Anet Kontaveit lost, as did 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza and the men’s No. 3 seed, French Open finalist Casper Ruud…Coco Gauff will play on Centre Court Thursday…Novak Djokovic scored his 34th straight win on Centre Court…While Americans Reilly Opelka and Ann Li fell, Alison Riske, Stevie Johnson, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul advanced.

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