Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine narrowly defeated Maryna Zanevska at Indian Wells 6(5)-7 7-6(6) 7-5. Zanevska plays under a Belgian flag, but is originally also from Ukraine, which has been in war with Russia for over two weeks now.
After the tough match, where both players wore blue and yellow, they shared a long embrace at the net. Kostyuk later explained to press that, “[Maryna’s] parents are in Ukraine and they’re in a calmer area, but they’re still there. Everyone is afraid. I told her that she played unbelievable and I told her that everything is going to be ok, our parents are going to be ok. Because I think this is something I could say at that moment and I think this was important.”
While Kostyuk says she has adjusted to fearing for her family, the early days were particularly harrowing: “The first couple days my whole family was there and they were all in one house, so if anything was about to happen, I would lose my whole family. You go to sleep and you don’t know if you’ll wake up having a family the next morning.”
The press conference focused on the topic of the Russian war against Ukraine, a subject Kostyuk was animated and motivated to speak about. A handful of times the moderator even tried to move questions along, but Kostyuk insisted on using her platform to tell her story and share her experiences.
Just like on the tennis court, she held nothing back in the press conference. The Ukrainian has had some communication, but has not felt the support she expected from her fellow players: “There was one player who texted me and one player who came by and had a chat, but I never heard that someone is sorry and never heard someone is not supporting what’s going on. For me, this is shocking because you don’t have to be into politics or into deep stuff to just be a human being, to just know what’s going on. You all know what’s going on.”
Kostyuk was visibly frustrated with the response she received from the WTA Tour and pointed out other major international sports have banned Russians from competing. She was cautious not to include Belarusian players in her criticism: “It hurts me. It just hurts me. It hurts me every time I come on site. It hurts me seeing all these players. I can’t say anything about Belarusian players because they’re really not a part of it. They know they’re victims in this. All of them, they are trying to be nice. But seeing the players on site really hurts me, and seeing the only problem they have is not being able to transfer the money and stuff… that’s what they’re talking about. This is unacceptable for me.”
In contrast to worrying about money transfers she says, “my morning consists of reading news, of checking on the family, if they’re ok, if they’re alive.” Early in the invasion, she was particularly worried for her family and found community with fellow Ukrainian players: “it was very helpful for me to come here and see all these girls that are struggling as much as me. We kind of shared our experiences, what we are going through, what we are feeling, and it was very helpful. It’s just terrifying.”
Kostyuk was open about feeling survivors’ guilt as war rages in her home country: “At the beginning, I felt guilty that I’m not there. Why am I not there when the whole family is there? I felt guilty that I am playing tennis, that I have the sky above me that is blue and bright and very calm. It was mixed feelings, but you can’t be in this position because everyone is fighting how they can fight and my job is to play tennis and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation.”
While international media has celebrated Russian players like Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev for stating that they are for peace and oppose war, Kostyuk is hurt by their vague claims. As she sees it, “what’s going on is not a secret. You don’t have to be into politics to know what’s going on, to know who invaded who, who is bombing who. It’s very simple and easy and you cannot be neutral in this.” She added, “for me, ‘no war’ means a lot of things. You know we can stop the war by giving up. […] For me, these statements have no meaning. It has no sense, it has no substance in it. ‘No war’ for me means for Ukraine to give up […] We fight and we fight, and these ‘no war’ statements hurt me. They hurt me because they have no substance.”