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As Miami campaigns come to an end, Ukrainian players ponder what’s next
“As a player based in Kyiv, I have nowhere to go,” wrote Lesia Tsurenko, on the same day that Ukrainian No. 1 Elina Svitolina announced a break from tennis.
Published Mar 29, 2022
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After a hectic Sunshine Swing, most players departing the Miami Open are eager to recharge their batteries—even for a brief moment—before setting off to conquer the transition to the clay courts and prepare for European tournaments. But for Ukrainian players caught in the crossfire of Russia’s bloody military invasion of their country, the question of “what’s next?” has no easy answer.
More than a month after the horrifying headlines and images began to dominate the news, nearly four million Ukrainians have already fled their homes—including tennis players like sisters Dayana and Ivanna Yastremska of Odessa and Lesia Tsurenko of Kyiv.
As if the heavy mental toll of having to leave behind homes and even families wasn’t enough, these elite athletes must now attempt to carry on as usual—but without access to their usual training bases and long-held routines, making it all the more difficult to stay focused on producing their best tennis.
“After the worst month of my life with constant headache, panic attacks and guilt over the war in Ukraine, I face a new challenge... As a player based in Kyiv, I have nowhere to go,” No. 135 Tsurenko wrote in an emotional Twitter post from Marbella, Spain, where she bowed out in the first round of the WTA 125K event.
“Now every Ukrainian has his own nightmare story… Where should I go?”
It’s a question Dayana Yastremska might also be asking herself, after her inspiring run to the Lyon final days after fleeing the country grabbed headlines around the world. The No. 104 was given another wild card into the BNP Paribas Open and played qualifying in Miami, but didn’t get far in either tournament, falling in the first round of both.
Yastremska now features in the entry list of the WTA 250 event in Bogota, facing the prospect of a tri-continental trek between Miami, Bogota and her next clay-court events in Europe. But at least she’s got some semblance of a schedule: Due to her lower ranking, Tsurenko will have to attempt to break out of qualifying rounds in a similarly exhausting transatlantic zig-zag—she went to Spain after Miami, and is next scheduled to contest qualies in Charleston.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s No.1 Elina Svitolina recently announced that she will take a break from the tour, citing a back injury that will rule her out of Fed Cup and tour events in Europe.
“It’s been an extremely difficult couple of months for me, not only mentally but also physically,” Svitolina posted. “For a quite long time I’ve been struggling with my back. The pain didn’t let me prepare for the tournaments at my best.
“Meanwhile, observing with unbearable pain in my heart what is happening in my homeland Ukraine and with how much bravery and courage our Ukrainian people are defending our country, this gave me a huge push to continue and fight on court. Now, my body can’t handle it anymore and I need to rest.”
With Svitolina leading the way, the tennis world has stood united in gestures of support and solidarity: the ATP, WTA, ITF and all four Grand Slams pledged a combined $700,000 to Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, as well as the Ukraine Tennis Federation.
At Svitolina's urging, tennis’ governing bodies have also stripped Russian flags and symbols from broadcasts and webpages, with the ITF going a step further to ban Russia and Belarus from international events like Davis Cup and Fed Cup—two competitions where the Russian Tennis Federation was the defending champion.
But with no end in sight to Russia’s war and its ongoing fallout, can living off of gestures and a patchwork of wild cards be sustainable for Ukrainian players like Tsurenko in the long term?