Sabalenka avoids ‘unsafe’ media duty after war grill


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World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka did not undertake her usual media duties at the French Open citing mental health concerns after her third-round win over Kamilla Rakhimova.

The Belarusian second seed was involved in a tense exchange with a Ukrainian journalist on Wednesday over her previous support for Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

“For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts,” said Sabalenka.

“These questions do not bother me after my matches.

I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches but, on Wednesday, I did not feel safe in the press conference.

“I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches. For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision.

“It hasn’t been an easy few days, and now my focus is continue to play well here in Paris.”

The Australian Open champion was also asked questions about the war after her first-round victory over Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, who refused to shake her hand and was booed off court.

Third seed Jessica Pegula also declined to do a press conference following the disappointment of her 6-1 6-3 loss to 28th seed Elise Mertens.

The American, whose preparations were disrupted by food poisoning, failed to make the quarter-finals for only the second time in the last six grand slams.

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, meanwhile, did not shake hands with Russian opponent Anna Blinkova at the end of her 2-6 6-2 7-5 victory.

Svitolina gave a thumbs-up and exchanged a few words with Blinkova but did not offer her hand.

Svitolina will next play another Russian, Daria Kasatkina, who has been the most vocal of the Russian and Belarusian competitors in speaking out against the war.

Sabalenka zips into French Open fourth round

Sabalenka wasted no time as she whizzed into the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-2 6-2 drubbing of Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia

Strong on serve, the Belarusian broke twice in the opening set and raced to a 3-0 lead in the second on a sunbathed court Philippe Chatrier to set up a meeting with American Sloane Stephens or Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

Sabalenka, who beat world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the Madrid Open final last month, has yet to lose a set in the tournament and has now broken her third-round loss streak in Paris.

She was always in control and despite some minor blips, faced only one break point – which she saved with a second-serve ace.

“It feels amazing to feel the support and just to be on this court and have the opportunity to play tennis,” the Australian Open champion said after an encounter that lasted a little over an hour.


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