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Sabalenka roasts “endangered” duck for a Ukrainian journalist

By Molly McCloy in Paris

World number two Aryna Sabalenka was allowed to miss her press conference on Friday after she claimed tense conversations with reporters about the war in Ukraine left her feeling “in danger”.

A Ukrainian journalist interviewed the Belarusian citizen, Wednesday. She responded “without comment” to questions about her relations with President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Vladimir Putin and a supporter of the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine.

Citing his “mental health and safety,” Sabalenka chose not to hold an open press conference after her 6-2, 6-2 third-round win over Russia’s Kamila Rakimova. Instead, the French Tennis Federation reportedly assembled a select group of journalists to speak with, and said nothing to other media professionals. Telegraph Sport understands that Sabalenka only responded to questions from a representative of the Women’s Tennis Association.

“After the match, I talked to the media as I usually do. I know they are still waiting for questions that are more about politics than tennis,” said Sabalenka. “For several months I’ve been answering these questions and I’ve been very clear about my feelings and thoughts. These questions don’t bother me after the games. I know I have to give answers to things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I didn’t feel safe.” [my] Press Conference.

“I have to be able to feel safe when I am interviewing journalists after matches. In the interest of my mental health and well-being, I decided to get out of this situation today, and the Championship has supported me in this decision. These few days have not been easy, and now I focus on continuing to play well.” Well here in Paris.»

Under Grand Slam rules, players are required to use the media after a match, but in recent years there has been more leniency, particularly for mental health reasons, following Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from Roland Garros in 2021, when organizers fined her for interrupting the press. . . conferences.

Telegraph Sport understands that Sabalenka will not be fined and has the full support of the FFT.

Ukrainian journalist Daria Meshcherchakwa, a war refugee, spent the first week of Roland Garros asking Russian and Belarusian players specific questions about their support for the war in Ukraine. She was not invited to the closed Sabalenka press event.

Later on Friday, Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina was booed by the Parisian crowd for not shaking hands with her Russian rival Anna Blinkova, after a powerful one-set comeback to win 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. When Blinkova left the field, the crowd booed her.

Svitolina later confirmed that she would continue to refrain from shaking hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents, as a sign of support for her compatriots on the front line.

“I’m Ukrainian. I’m defending my country. I’m doing everything I can to support it, to give good spirits to the men, to the women who are now on the front lines and fighting for our land, for our country. So can you imagine the guy or girl who is looking at me right now and acting like something It didn’t happen. I represent my country. I have a voice. I support Ukraine.

Svitolina faces Russian top seed Daria Kasatkina – who has been an outspoken critic of Putin’s invasion – in the last 16.

Speaking after her victory on Friday, the former world number three said it was Sabalenka’s “choice” to skip her press conference and “it’s none of my business.” However, she praised Kasatkina’s stance as “brave”.

“I am grateful to Dasha for accepting this position. It is also what you would expect from others. It is really brave of him.”

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