Aryna Sabalenka has spoken out about Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's recent comments praising the player's achievements, saying that they are not "not helping".
Sabalenka has already spoken about the difficulties she has faced in the locker room because of her nationality. Her fears are now that the direct lauding of her accomplishments by such a prominent supporter of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will only intensify feelings of animosity towards the Belarusian player.
Lukashenko was a vocal supporter of Sabalenka's triumph at the Australian Open in January, and has more recently declared that everyone knows where she is from, despite Sabalenka playing under a neutral flag.
The issue of how to handle Russian and Belarusian athletes during the ongoing war in Ukraine has been highly contentious and fraught with emotion. Lukashenko's recent comments will only add fuel to the fire and do little to assuage the concerns of those who think players from these countries should be banned. It appears Sabalenka agrees with this.
I'm pretty sure that it's not helping. I don't know what to say because he can comment [on] my game, he can comment whatever he wants to.
The current World No. 2 went on to express her helplessness at the situation, claiming that she would end the war if she could - the most powerful statement Sabalenka has publicly made about the war since it began last February.
I have nothing to do with politics...If Ukrainians will hate me more after his speech, then what can I do? If they feel better by hating me, I'm happy to help them with that. They can do that. But the rest, if I could stop the war, I would do that, but unfortunately it's not in my hands and it's not under my control.
Away from the ongoing turmoil of the war, Sabalenka will face 2021 French Open winner Krejcikova in her opening match in Stuttgart, in a blockbuster clash of two WTA titans.