Russian players being ‘spoken to’ as WTA boss issues update

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WTA CEO Steve Simon has confirmed that the women’s tennis tour is continuing to “speak with” Russian and Belarusian players after being caught up in some controversy for his response to the war in Ukraine. Ukrainian pro Lesia Tsurenko claimed she had a “shocking” conversation with Simon, in which he said she shouldn’t be “upset” by the views of her Russian colleagues.

Simon has come under fire in recent days after world No 95 Tsurenko pulled out of her Indian Wells match against Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka with short notice. The Ukrainian then revealed she had been struggling with “panic attacks” following a discussion with the WTA CEO and Chairman about the ongoing war in her home nation.

Discussing their conversation with Great Tennis Ukraine, the four-time title said: “He told me that he himself does not support the war, but if the players from Russia and Belarus support it, then this is only their own opinion, and the opinion of other people should not upset me.”

It led to a statement from the WTA, but Simon himself has now discussed the matter publicly and said the tour was doing as much as it could. “We continue to do as much as we have the ability to do,” the tour boss told told BBC Sport.

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“We have done a lot for our athletes, I know there’s a variety of opinions on that out there. What’s going on in Ukraine is reprehensible. You can’t support it any way – nor what the Russian government is doing.”

The American former pro also addressed an issue with Russia’s Anastasia Potapova wearing Spartak Moscow football shirt to her Indian Wells match against Jessica Pegula on Sunday. The 21-year-old was said to have been “formally warned” by the WTA for wearing the shirt, and Simon confirmed this.

He explained: “We spoke with Anastasia directly and also have given her a warning so she knows that this was not appropriate and I don’t think we will see any further instances of this going forward.” The WTA boss also said the tour was continuing to “speak to” players from Russia and Belarus as he defended their “neutral approach” to the situation.

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In a joint decision that was taken just days into the war last year, the ATP, WTA, ITF and four Grand Slams announced that players from the two nations would compete as neutral athletes with no mention of their flag or country. “Our sympathies are at the highest level with everybody in Ukraine and I don’t think any of us can properly understand what they are going through,” he said. “I don’t think that any of this is lessening what’s going on over there.

“We continue to speak with [Russian and Belarusian players] and make sure they understand about the sensitivities here and that they are competing as neutral athletes. I think there is a strong understanding on that.”

But Simon stood by the current approach in tennis, adding: “We’ve always had the position – and it’s been a fundamental position of the tour – that every player that is eligible should be allowed to play. And this is irrespective to decisions that may have been made by local governments. We’ve been consistent with that and we are going to stay consistent with that. We think that the neutral approach is appropriate.”

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