Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko suffered a panic attack after talking to WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon about the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in tennis tournaments. The WTA world No.95 was so emotionally distressed that she had to withdraw from her third-round match at the BNP Paribas Open.
The things Tsurenko heard from the WTA chief were so disturbing to her that she suffered a mental breakdown and had difficulty breathing.
“I was absolutely shocked by what I heard from him,” a Twitter account dedicated to Ukrainian tennis quoted Tsurenko. The 33-year-old felt mentally bad in her second-round match against Croatia’s Donna Vekic, and it was incredibly difficult for her to focus on the game, but she simply couldn’t regroup for her upcoming encounter with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Tsurenko explained: “I couldn’t pull myself together. I had a panic attack when it was time to go out there. I hope I’ll be able to regroup and be more ready for the next tournament.”
When Simon expressed his stance that Russian and Belarusian players should be allowed to play the Olympics, as it is “fair play” and “shows that Olympic principles are not violated,” Tsurenko snapped and asked him whether he realized that there was an active war going on in her home country. Although Simon emphasized that he was against the war, he told Tsurenko that there was nothing he could do if players from Russia and Belarus do support the war and that other people’s opinions shouldn’t upset her.
“This conversation left me completely shocked, I tried to digest all the information but today I just broke down mentally, to be honest,” Tsurenko explained and revealed that other Ukrainian players felt the same. She added: “I just don’t get that such things need to be explained. It’s just so weird and so painful.”
In response to Tsurenko’s criticism, the WTA released the following statement:
“First and foremost, we acknowledge the emotions Lesia and all of our Ukrainian athletes have and continue to manage during this very difficult period of time. We are witnessing an ongoing horrific war that continues to bring unforeseen circumstances with far reaching consequences that are affecting the world, as well as the global WTA Tour and its members.
“The WTA has consistently reflected our full support for Ukraine and strongly condemn the actions that have been brought forth by the Russian government.
“With this, a fundamental principle of the WTA remains, which is ensuring that individual athletes may participate in professional tennis events based on merit and without any form of discrimination, and not penalized due to the decisions made by the leadership of their country.”