Echoes Of War: All’s Not Quiet On The Western Front

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Bill Simons

Indian Wells

OF WAR, DANIIL AND THE ELOQUENCE OF SWIATEK: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek is intense on court. She can seem ruthless, and she doesn’t have a natural Coco-like charisma that attracts fans.

But, at just 21, she’s wise, compassionate and brave. Last year she hosted a major fundraiser for Ukraine.

Last night she was asked about Lesia Tsurenko. The 33-year-old Ukrainian withdrew from her match against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka because she had a panic attack after speaking with WTA CEO Steve Simon on the Ukrainian-Russian issue.

Iga reflected on the situation, commenting, “It’s pretty emotional…because at the beginning we kind of didn’t have proper leadership to guide us through.

“There’s a lot of tension in the locker room…because there is a war. I totally understand why she withdrew. Honestly, I respect the Ukrainian girls so much, because if a bomb landed in my country or if my home were destroyed, I don’t know if I could handle that, honestly, and play on the WTA. You have to really be there mentally to compete every week. So I totally get that she wasn’t…

“More should be done to help Ukrainian players…Everything we discuss in tennis is more about Belarusian and Russian players – if they should be allowed [to play].

“I don’t think that’s right, because we should focus more on helping Ukrainian players and provide them everything they need, because they have to take care of all their families, and there’s a lot of baggage on their shoulders. I’ll try to help…The actions that were taken up to this point were not enough.

“We should think in a more broad horizon and not be worried if we’re going to earn money that week…but more about what’s at stake and what are actually the actions that may stop the Russian aggression…[With] us being examples for kids and fans, we also bear some responsibility. It’s unfortunate that some people were born in countries that make war…I feel they should be more responsible…

“As tennis players, we are in a better situation than most of the people in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, because there are many people who lost their jobs because of the war. With the money we’re earning, even the Russian and Belarusian players are kind of safe.

“We all have the responsibility to show the right example…There is a responsibility on every one of us, and that’s why we’re making that kind of money. That’s why we’re in the media.

“There are some advantages of that and [some] disadvantages. Sometimes this responsibility is a disadvantage, but it is how it is.”

Inside Tennis then shared with Russia’s best player what Iga had said, and asked, “What are your thoughts about the pressures on the Ukrainians, whose country is being bombed, and their homes are being bombed? Do you think top players do have a responsibility to use their platforms [to speak out]?

Daniil responded, “It’s a tough question…I definitely feel sorry for all the Ukrainian players and what they go through. For sure, the situation with Tsurenko…it’s more for her and maybe a little bit for [Belarusian] Sabalenka to answer…

“Talking about top players, of course we have a responsibility. It depends on how every individual will do it…I always said the same, ‘I’m for peace all over the world, to be honest,’ and that’s all I can say.

Inside Tennis began a follow-up question. But, as was the case a week ago, we were cut off by the moderator who insisted the discussion was done. There then was quite a back and forth between us and the moderator until, to his credit, Daniil eventually said, “Let’s hear the question, for sure.”

“Thank you, Daniil. You’ve said for many months you’re for peace, which is wonderful, but would you actually like to see the war end in the Ukraine?

Daniil, who is fabulous on defense on and off the court, then replied with an interesting, perhaps self-protective, word salad: “I will say because I think in my answer there is an answer to this, that I am for peace. So I’m going to continue with the same answer, because I do think that there is an answer to your question.”

FRANCES TIAFOE IS A PUMPED UP FIRE PLAYER: Daniil Medvedev, who won again today, will next face Frances Tiafoe, who, with some ease, downed Cam Norrie. Daniil, who himself has won 18 matches in a row, said Tiafoe is “such a pumped up fire player – no kidding.” 

The 25-year-old American who made it to the US Open semis and was a star at the Laver Cup has beaten Marcos Giron, Jason Kubler, Alejandro Tabilo and Norrie without dropping a set. He’s now into his first Masters 1000 semifinal. He told the Tennis Channel, “I have got to get my ass up there.” 

He was referring to charging the net. But his fans are also hoping that he will get up in the rankings. Frances has set his goal to win a Grand Slam. He said if he could win a Slam, he could walk away from the game, and, “No one is gonna tell me shit.” But he said to get to the very top, he first has to win masters tournaments like Indian Wells. And he’s got a 0-4 record against Medvedev. 

WHEN YOU HEAR IT FROM LEBRON AND CURRY, IT’S DIFFERENT: Frances Tiafoe, who played in the NBA celebrity game and was courtside at a Lakers game last week, adores basketball. He said he loves the athleticism of hoops, explaining, “I guess everything around it, fashion, music [is great]…Everyone just loves hoops…[it is] bringing people together, bringing cities together.”  

We asked him what he has learned from being around the NBA. He replied, “No matter who you are – if you are a painter or whoever – everyone who is great at something has the same mindset. There’s a certain level of focus and commitment to whatever your craft is. Getting to know those [NBA] guys…[sent] the same message…You have to sacrifice each and every day. 

“It’s funny, your parents tell you the same s–t all the time, but when you hear it from Steph Curry or from LeBron, it’s a little different. Sorry, mom. Sorry, dad. When they tell me…it’s time to make some sacrifices…you know there is no secret sauce. You’ve just got to get in there and do the unseen hours. What you do in the dark will come to the light.”

SABALENKA SIZZLES: Aryna Sabalenka again proved her mettle today as she set aside Coco Gauff 6-4, 6-0. In 17 outings this year, the Belarusian has just lost one match and five sets, and is into her first Indian Wells semifinals. Four years ago she won the doubles title here with Elise Mertens. 

WOUNDED WARRIOR: Yesterday, Medvedev suffered a wretched ankle injury. Today he slashed his thumb. Still, he downed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-5 to reach the Indian Wells semifinals. 

MEDVEDEV’S THOUGHTFUL, MEASURED REFLECTION: Spanish clay-courter Manuel Santana was not fond of Wimbledon. He asserted, “Grass is for cows.” Maria Sharapova said she played the French Open “like a cow on ice.” And Medvedev is not a fan of Indian Wells courts. The often personable Russian offered his thoughtful, measured reflection, telling the ump: “Freaking disgrace to the sport! Should be banned from playing here! And they call it a hard court!

“What a shame to call this awful court a hard court. I’ll go to the toilet but I don’t care, give me a time violation, I’m going to be as slow as this court. I’m going to the toilet for however long. If they make us play here, I can do whatever I want. I don’t care.”

THE FEAR OF RAFA: Medvedev said he was scared to play Rafa Nadal on clay.

QUOTEBOOK: “I need a pedicure badly.” – 2022 Indian Wells finalist Maria Sakkari ,who reached the semis, but only after a tough three-set battle against Petra Kvitova

“The slim reaper just misses another tormented soul. He is throwing a shadow across the ATP.” Jason Goodall on Medvedev

“See ball, hit ball, goodbye.” – Jim Courier after Tommy Paul hit a 99 mph forehand

“Medvedev’s gift is the ability to give his opponents the opportunity to make mistakes.” – Jim Courier

JAGGER AND KENNEDY: The ITF Fila International Junior Championships featured players named Jack Kennedy and Jagger Leach, who is the son of Lindsay Davenport and Jon Leach.

OUT OF AFRICA: Going into today’s play, there were three men whose parents have African roots. Both Frances Tiafoe’s mother and father are from Sierra Leone. Felix Auger-Aliassime’s father is from Togo and Cam Norrie was born in South Africa.

THUS SPOKE TIAFOE: After he won today, Frances wrote on Tennis Channel’s lens, “Semifinal tones” and said, “I still have a lot of work to do”…[but] when I lace them up and lock in, I can compete with anybody.”

LITTLE LOVE FOR TOMMY: Jim Courier asked, “When we talk about the two best two-handed backhands in the game, why don’t we talk more about Tommy Paul?”

Also reporting: Vinay Venkatesh

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