Ukraine | Oldest player in the world trapped, and Indian Wells feels ripples of conflict

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97-year-old amateur Leonid Stanislavskyi is enduring his worst nightmare in Kharkiv as Russian forces bomb the Ukrainian city.

“I’ve been following it 24-7 myself and it’s a priority in the world right now, and it’s really sad to see all the news coming out every day. I have really good friends from Ukraine I have friends from Belarus so it’s very tough to see that, and of course, for them even tougher, and to also try to play well. Trying to compete while you are thinking about your family at home. I hope that we can find peace soon, that is the priority right now. Tennis is not a priority compared to a war. Paula Badosa

97-year-old amateur Leonid Stanislavskyi is enduring his worst nightmare in Kharkiv as Russian forces bomb the Ukrainian city.

Stanislavskyi, who holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest tennis player, has played Rafael Nadal, and holds hopes of hitting some balls with Roger Federer if he can survive the conflict.

“I hope I live to reach 100. I have to survive this frightening situation,” he told Reuters. “The war started on 24th [February].

“From the 24th till now I have practically not gone out. I’ve stayed at home… I have supplies, the fridge is full. I’m sitting at home, not going anywhere.

“My daughter Tanya is in Poland, she wants to take me there. But I decided to stay here. I have bad hearing so I sleep at night and don’t hear anything.

“Last night there were bombings, in the morning there were air-raid sirens again.”

Stanislavskyi survived the Second World War, when he was an engineer who helped build Soviet warplanes to fight the Nazis.

“I never thought that I would have to live through another, more frightening war, where people from both sides are dying – mothers are losing their children, wives are losing their sons and their husbands,” he added.

“What is this? What good is it? In the 21st century there can’t be war. The war needs to be stopped, an agreement has to be reached.”

For Stanislavskyi, an end to the conflict would also mean the chance to resume playing tennis and, possibly, to appear at the next seniors World Championships, due to be held in Florida next month.

He was 30 when he was first introduced to the sport and used to train three times a week.

“Tennis is my life, my destiny,” he said. “I’ve played tennis at a serious level since I was 90, I’ve played abroad, I’ve played in World Championships, I’ve played in the European Championships.

“I’m not afraid of anyone… I’m hoping that the war will end, and I will be able to play tennis. If I could get [to Poland] I would play there. But I decided to stay at home and wait for the end of the war,” he said.

No Russian flag

Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev, the New World No 1, has removed the Russian flag from his Instagram profile after Russian and Belarusian tennis stars were hit with sanctions by the ITF.

The flag had previously been seen beside his description as a ‘pro tennis player’, but no longer features on the account, which is followed by just over 950,000 people.

Medvedev, 26, recently made the World No 1 spot, becoming the first new name in 18 years to achieve the accolade outside of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Like his compatriots, Medvedev will now be forced to compete without his nation’s name and flag after the ITF sanctioned both Russia and its ally Belarus earlier this week in light of the conflict in Ukraine.

The Russian and Belarusian tennis federations have been suspended ‘until further notice’, while teams from the two nations will not compete in this year’s Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup competitions in which the Russian Tennis Federation are reigning champions of both.

On the official ATP and WTA websites, all the flags have been removed from Russian and Belarusian male and female players in compliance with the joint statement the WTA, ATP and ITF issued on 1 March decrying Russia’s actions but not punishing its players.

As a result all Russian and Belarusian players are still allowed to compete but will be treated as ‘neutral’ with no mentions of their country or representations of their flag, while future tournaments scheduled to be held in Russia and Belarus have been suspended.

Elina Svitolina is uniting the tennis world against Putin and the Russian invasion of her country

© Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

And so the ripples of the war in Ukraine will be felt at Indian Wells, considered by many as the 5th major and which boasts a loaded international field, which begins next week and will be the first large-scale global sporting event since the invasion began.

There are 4 players from Ukraine, 12 from Russia and 4 from Belarus, who will be in the field out in the desert over the coming two weeks, including Medvedev.

At the BNP Paribas Open, when a player from Russia or Belarus is announced to begin his or her match next week, the name of their country will not be mentioned, nor will their flag be shown.

The outer stadiums at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden are traditionally lined with flags of all the countries competing, but the Russian and Belarusian flags will not be raised this year.

Tennis players continue to speak out against the attack on Ukraine, with Elina Svitolina, Dayana Yastremska and many others condemning President Putin and Russia for the unprovoked invasion that is causing millions of Ukrainians to flee the country as refugees.

“For me, I’m not playing only for myself, I’m playing for my country. I’m playing for the help of the Ukrainian army and people in need, so this victory is very special. I’m playing for all Ukrainians,” Svitolina said, pledging whatever prize money she won in Mexico and her upcoming events, including the BNP Paribas Open, to the Ukrainian army.

“I think it’s my mission to unite our tennis community to stand with Ukraine, to help Ukraine, because what we’re going through is a horrible thing for all Ukrainians. … That’s why I’m playing for my country and doing my best to use my platform to try to invite people to support Ukraine.”

Sergiy Stakhovsky, a Ukrainian player ranked No 238 in the world, who was not in line to play in the desert this year but did compete here in 2018, has joined the resistance in his home country

In an emotional interview with the BBC, Stakhovsky said he told his young children that he was leaving to play in a tennis tournament.

“My kids don’t know that I’m here, they don’t understand war,” Stakhovsky said. “I know how to use a gun. I pretty much hope that I will not have to use the gun, but if I have to, I’ll have to.”

Many countries in Eastern Europe are feeling the consequences of the Russian invasion, and players from those who still have family living there must split their attention between focusing on tennis and staying in touch with the news and communications from their homelands.

Former champion at Indian Wells and current Tennis Channel broadcaster Lindsay Davenport tried to put herself in the shoes of players like Svitolina, Medvedev, Anastasia Pavlyunchekova and Victoria Azarenka from Belarus.

“I think it’s going to be very emotional out in the desert,” Davenport said. “I think it’s going to be really hard for a number of players to compete, not be on empty emotionally. You know they’re not sleeping at night.

“I mean, like everyone in the world, I just hope it doesn’t last much longer. It seems like it might, but it just seems unfathomable what is happening and what some of these people are having to go through.”

The defending BNP Paribas Open champion on the women’s side, Paula Badosa from Spain, echoed Davenport’s sentiments and said the tennis community is like its own family, so to see others struggling with these realities really resonates.

“I’ve been following it 24-7 myself and it’s a priority in the world right now, and it’s really sad to see all the news coming out every day,” Badosa said on Friday after arriving in the desert to prepare for the event. “I have really good friends from Ukraine I have friends from Belarus so it’s very tough to see that, and of course, for them even tougher, and to also try to play well.

“Trying to compete while you are thinking about your family at home. I hope that we can find peace soon, that is the priority right now. Tennis is not a priority compared to a war.”

Paula Badosa is the defending champion at Indian Wells, having beaten Victoria Azarenka in the final last year

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ukrainians in the field at Indian Wells

  • Women’s singles: Elina Svitolina (15), Anhelina Kalinina (49), Marta Kotsyuk (54)
  • Women’s doubles: Nadiia Kichenok

Russians

  • Women’s singles: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (14), Veronika Kudermatova (24), Daria Kasatkina (26), Ludmila Samsononova (32), Ekaterina Alexandrova (50), Varvara Gracheva (71)
  • Women’s doubles: Natela Dzalamidze, Vera Zvonareva
  • Men’s singles: Daniil Medvedev (1), Andrey Rublev (6), Aslan Karatsov (22), Karen Khachanov (25)

Belarusians

  • Women’s singles: Aryna Sabalenka (3), Victoria Azarenka (16), Aliaksandra Sasnovich (60)
  • Men’s singles: Ilya Ivashka (43)

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