The 2023 Indian Wells has been full of surprises, but none quite as unexpected as Lesia Tsurenko's last-minute withdrawal from her third-round match against Aryna Sabalenka.
The Ukrainian player, who had been in good form before the match, stated that she was withdrawing for personal reasons, but given the time of the announcement, many people wondered whether there might be more to the story.
The continuing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which have affected tennis, served as fire for the rumors. Due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Belarusian and Russian athletes are playing under a neutral flag and therefore, it is impossible to overlook the political setting of Tsurenko's exit.
But regardless of the reasons behind Tsurenko's decision, it was Sabalenka who ultimately advanced to the next round. The Belarusian player has been in top form throughout the tournament, dispatching her previous opponent Evgeniya Rodina with ease and showcasing her trademark power and aggression on the court.
It's not the first time this week that Tsurenko made headlines. In her second-round match against Donna Vekic, her opponent refused to shake her hand, also without disclosing any more details.
It's also important to mention that Tsurenko wasn't shying away from retiring or withdrawing from events recently. In her past 15 tournaments, the Ukrainian withdrew or retired a total of 8 times.
On the same day as Tsurenko withdrew from the clash against the second-seeded Belarusian, Indian Wells faced another controversy as Russian Anastasia Potapova walked on the court in Spartak Moscow's jersey.
With Tsurenko out of the picture, Sabalenka now finds herself one step closer to the Indian Wells title. But the road ahead will be far from easy, as she is set to take on the 16th-seeded Barbora Krejcikova in the next round, and possibly rising star Coco Gauff if she advances to the quarterfinals.