Ukrainian tennis star makes army vow

Elina Svitolina made the pledge after defeating Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in Mexico

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina went ahead with her first-round match against Russian player Anastasia Potapova at the Monterrey Open in Mexico, but said that she would donate all her winnings at the tournament to the armed forces back in her homeland.

Svitolina had threatened not to play any rivals from Russia or Belarus in a stance over the offensive launched by Moscow in her homeland, but opted to go ahead with the match after the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced that all Russian and Belarusian players must now compete without their nations’ names or flags.

Appearing in clothing matching the colors of the Ukrainian flag, top seed Svitolina saw off Potapova in straight sets, 6-2 6-1, on Tuesday night in Mexico and afterwards said she would send any prize money to the Ukrainian army.

“Today it was a very special match for me,” said Svitolina.

“I’m in a very sad mood, but I’m happy that I’m playing tennis here.

“I was focused. I was on a mission for my country. From the beginning, it was important to be ready for anything that comes my way.”

© Gonzalo Gonzalez / Jam Media / Getty Images

Svitolina was champion at the tournament in 2020, and this year’s prize money for the winner stands at $31,000.

“All the prize money that I’m going to earn is going to be for the Ukrainian army,” added the star.

The Odessa-born Svitolina, who is married to French tennis star Gael Monfils and has amassed more than $20 million in career prize money, will next meet Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria in the second round in Monterrey.

Svitolina said before her match with Potapova that she does “not blame any of the Russian athletes” but would still boycott matches against them unless tennis officials made them play as neutrals.

Potapova, 20, had issued a message of her own, saying professional athletes “are essentially becoming hostages of the situation.”

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Ukrainian player Dayana Yastremska was emotional after winning her match at the Lyon Open in France against Ana Bogdan of Romania.

Yastremska, 21, and her younger sister had fled Ukraine last week, leaving their parents in the country.

Tuesday’s sanctions by the ITF included suspending the Russian and Belarusian tennis federations and canceling any events in the two countries “until further notice.”

As things stand, the Russian and Belarusian teams will be unable to compete in the two most prestigious team tournaments in men’s and women’s tennis – the David Cup and Billie Jean King Cup (formerly known as the Fed Cup).

Russia are the reigning champions in both competitions.

Russian sports officials have reacted with dismay to the sweeping sanctions by various federations, calling them a blatant politicization of sport and discriminatory towards athletes from Russia and Belarus.

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