Aryna Sabalenka is coming under increasing pressure to say more to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an invasion which is supported and aided by her homeland of Belarus.
That pressure came under renewed focus in the aftermath of Sabalenka’s second round win, when during an uncomfortable moment in her post-match press conference, the Belarusian was confronted by a Ukrainian journalist.
The journalist in question asked the world No. 2 why she signed a letter of support for Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, at a time when he was brutally persecuting members of his own country who spoke against him.
Sabalenka interrupted the journalist to say, “I have no comments to you, so thank you for your question.”
When the same journalist then moved on to ask why Sabalenka will not personally denounce the war in Ukraine, Sabalenka again answered by saying “I’ve got no comments to you”.
Difficult questions hang over Sabalenka’s Roland-Garros campaign
Sabalenka’s reluctance to speak candidly about the war in Ukraine is not unique to her. It is also, to some extent, understandable, given the potential dangers of publicly denouncing the invasion for prominent Russians and Belarusians.
However, the increased pressure for the world No. 2 to speak more plainly about the war is clearly something that is not going to abate.
This is essentially because she is such a leading figure in tennis, and as such, her words and opinions have added significance. It is also because of her close links to Lukashenko which continue to mean she will come under scrutinty.
Unlike Rybakina, who – although Russian-born – has little to no tennis connection to her native land now that she represents Kazakhstan, Sabalenka has done little since the war broke out to distance herself from a leader who she signed a letter of support for in 2020.
It continues to be a desperately delicate and difficult subject, one that has pervaded not only the tennis world, but essentially all walks of Western society.
For Sabalenka, therefore, this is not an issue that she will be able to leave behind.