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High Stakes For Ukraine’s Svitolina In Battle Against Belarusian Azarenka

  • 3 min read

Elina Svitolina’s clash against Belarusian Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon is more than just a match between two mothers on the Tour after the Ukrainian drew battle lines ahead of Sunday’s fourth round meeting on Court One.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a “special military operation”, used Belarus as a staging ground and players from both countries — playing as neutrals at Wimbledon — have been given the cold shoulder at tournaments.

While her compatriot Aryna Sabalenka shares a frosty relationship with the media over her links to Belarus, Azarenka said she does not face any animosity, especially from the fans.

But Ukrainians still keep Azarenka at arm’s length and even protested about her inclusion in a “Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition” in August last year, forcing the former world number one to withdraw from the event.

Wildcard Svitolina will be looking to get the better of Azarenka for the first time, having lost to the former Grand Slam champion in their last five meetings.

“For me it’s a big motivation. Firstly I think for my country, as well. Yeah, I’m looking forward to this challenge,” Svitolina said after she dispatched Sofia Kenin in the third round.

“It’s another match but in a way, a lot of Ukrainians will be watching, will be supporting me. I will go out there and put the fighting spirit on and just really fight for every single point.”

While Svitolina took a year off for the birth of her daughter Skai with husband and fellow tennis player Gael Monfils, her return to the Tour in March was seamless.


She made the quarter-finals at the French Open where she lost to Sabalenka, later accusing the Belarusian of adding fuel to the fire by standing at the net waiting for a handshake she knew would never happen.

Azarenka, however, said she was happy for Svitolina after she had a baby and returned to the court.

“I’m very happy for her that she had this incredible experience, of going through this incredible experience of having a family and the ability to come back actually very quickly on tour,” she said.

“(She has) already picked up her game at a very high level… I can’t speak for her but it seems like she’s playing with not so much pressure.”

Centre Court action begins with Russia’s Andrey Rublev facing Alexander Bublik in a repeat of last month’s Halle Open final where the Kazakhstan player prevailed in three sets.

World number one Iga Swiatek will then take on reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic while men’s holder Novak Djokovic wraps up Middle Sunday with a fourth-round match against Hubert Hurkacz.

“Overall (he’s a) very complete player. I don’t see too many holes in his game really. So I know that’s going to definitely be the toughest challenge of the tournament for me so far,” Djokovic said.

“He didn’t drop a set so far in the tournament. I saw how he was playing. He’s very comfortable playing on grass.”