The controversy began when Tsurenko withdrew from her third-round match against Belarusian Sabalenka, citing a panic attack as the primary reason. The World No. 81 later explained that the attack was triggered by a disconcerting conversation with WTA CEO Steve Simon about the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics.
Sabalenka shared her opinion on the matter, defending the WTA's efforts to ease tensions between players from the involved countries. She further claimed that neither she nor any Russian athletes were responsible for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and spoke about the hate in the locker rooms. The Belarusian star also insinuated that the overwhelming pressure exerted by Tsurenko's coach, Vlasov, was the real cause of the panic attack. She said:
"I think Tsurenko withdrew, there was more than panic attack or more than political situation. I had really tough situation last year with her coach the way he act to me. So I think that guy put so much pressure on her, and that's why that happen. It’s nothing to do with the WTA."
Vlasov swiftly retorted, condemning Sabalenka's remarks and pointing out her lack of empathy for Tsurenko's situation. He accused Sabalenka of attempting to deflect the focus from the issue at hand. According to Vlasov, Sabalenka's comments failed to express any concern for Tsurenko's wellbeing or to denounce Simon's statements.
“There were no words from Sabalenka about wishing Lesia well or a speedy recovery. She didn’t condemn Simon’s words by any means and the whole situation either.”
“In her comment she did the same trick as the Russian propaganda did at the beginning of the war. Back then Russians and Belarusians said that it was the Ukrainians who were bombing their capital. It’s just an attempt to shift the focus from the situation, nothing else.”
The public exchange between Vlasov and Sabalenka highlights the delicate balance that tennis players and their teams must maintain in the face of political tensions. As the world of sports continues to navigate these complexities, it is crucial for athletes and their support systems to approach sensitive matters with empathy and understanding.