Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka has received “hate” from people in the sport over Belarus’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Belarussian says she has never experienced such tensions in the locker room before and has been confronted with “weird conversations” after her country aided Russia with their war.
“It was really tough for me because I’ve never faced that much hate in the locker room,” the 24-year-old said at a press conference to preview the Miami Open.
“There are a lot of haters on Instagram when you’re losing matches, but in the locker room I’ve never faced that.
“It was really tough but now it’s getting better.
“I had some, not like fights, but I had some weird conversations with, not the girls, but with members of their team. It was tough. It was [a] tough period. But, now it’s getting better.”
The war has perhaps caused more tension in tennis than any other sport, with Russian, Ukranian and Belarussian players regularly coming up against each other.
Russian players have been banned from playing under their country’s flag, but that has not been enough to appease a host of Ukranian players on the tour.
Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko pulled out of her match with Sabalenka at Indian Wells last week, citing a panic attack she had suffered after discussions with Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive Steve Simon, while Russia’s Anastasia Potapova was handed a formal warning for wearing a Spartak Moscow shirt on court.
Russian players were banned from competing in last summer’s British grass-court season as part of government sanctions, but the Lawn Tennis Association received hefty six-figure fines by both the ATP and the WTA, while Wimbledon was stripped of any ranking points.