Wimbledon, England. Iga Sviatek, still leaning low from her latest victory, sat in the players’ café, high above the All England Club and the grass she is still learning to love.
Thursday night, her table offered a wide, reassuring panorama of the privileged enjoying their privileges, but Swiatek’s attention was elsewhere. It was about the war in Ukraine and the exhibition match she announced the day before to help raise money for young Ukrainians.
It will take place on July 23 in Krakow, Swiatek’s homeland, Poland. For Swiatek, it took 1st place. 1 and a 37-match winning streak, this is the latest sign that she wants to use her new and rapidly expanding platform to do much more than just sell shoes and build Instagram followers.
“This is the new position I’m in and I’m trying to make the best of it,” Swiatek said. “But I still haven’t figured out how best to use it, you know? But definitely, I want to show my support.”
“I was very emotional about it,” she said of the war.
Poland, which borders Ukraine, has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees, but Swiatek, whose work spans five continents, is concerned that too much of the rest of the world is leaving with some of her fellow footballers.
After Russia invaded Ukraine In February, many players began to wear blue and yellow ribbons on the court, the colors of the national flag of Ukraine. At this stage, Sviatek is one of the few non-Ukrainians who still wears the ribbon she pins on the side of her cap.
“In our country, we know that there is a war going on, but when I travel, I see that there is not much news about it,” Swiatek said. “Of course, at first it was, but then more and more silence. In general, I hope that I will remind people that the war is somewhere nearby. Society, we don’t have a long memory. But I mean lives are at stake, so I think we should remind people.”
“But that’s just talk, I suppose,” she said. “Right now, I’m very happy that we’re taking some action.”
The exhibition will feature a match between Swiatek and former Polish tennis star Agnieszka Radwaska, as well as a fundraiser to support children and teenagers affected by the war in Ukraine. Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s most successful current player, who is pregnant and currently out of the tour, will serve as a chair referee. Serhiy Stakhovsky, a former Ukrainian male star now serving in the Ukrainian army, will play doubles with Radvanska against Sviatok and his Polish partner.
Wimbledon, of course, also took action, causing a lot of controversy in this game as it is the only Grand Slam tennis tournament bar Russian and Belarusian players because of the invasion. The All England club took a step, painfully, under some pressure from the British government, but the club remained in its position despite being deprived of rating points for men’s and women’s tours.
Swiatek would like to see more consultation between the tour leaders and the entire group of players on the decision to forfeit points, although the WTA Players’ Council, with its elected representatives, has been actively involved in the process.
“Before, I didn’t really focus on glasses because we should talk about war and human suffering, not glasses,” Swiatek said. “But for sure, when I think about it, it seems to me that now for the winners and for the people who win and work really hard, it will not be fair.”
British opinion polls have shown support for a Wimbledon ban, even though other major tennis events, including US Opendid not follow Wimbledon’s lead by arguing that individual athletes should not be punished for the actions of their governments.
Swiatek’s counterpart on the men’s tour: No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, the charismatic and polyglot top-ranked Russian, is not based in London, but instead trains (and plays golf) at his base in the south of France. Six women’s singles players made the top 40, including No. 1. 6 Arina Sabalenka of Belarus was also eliminated.
The ban was met mixed reactions to the tourboth publicly and privately, but Swiatek, after much deliberation, can see the prospect of Wimbledon.
“I think this is the only way to show that war and their aggression is wrong,” she said.
“Of course, sometimes it’s unfair to these players,” she said of the banned group. “But we are public and we have influence. That’s why we also make a lot of money. We are sometimes shown on television everywhere, and sport was in politics. I know people want to separate it, and I would also like to kind of not be involved in all aspects of politics, but in such matters it is, and sometimes nothing can be done.
Wimbledon did not emphasize the ban on Russia and Belarus during the tournament, but invited all Ukrainian refugees who settled in the vicinity of Wimbledon to attend the tournament on Sunday.
The most vocal opponents of the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the tournament were its players, including Lesya Tsurenko, the last Ukrainian woman left in singles, who lost in the third round on Friday to Julia Niemeyer of Germany.
All leading Ukrainian players were forced to leave the country to continue their careers. Some, like Angelina Kalinina, still live on suitcases and use the tournament grounds as training bases, but Tsurenko has finally been able to rent an apartment in Italy and often trains with Marta Kostyuk, another talented Ukrainian tennis player, at the tennis center. run by longtime Italian coach Riccardo Piatti in Bordighera.
“A small town by the sea,” said Tsurenko. “And sometimes, when you just eat delicious food and drink amazing Italian espresso, and you see that beautiful nature surrounds you, for some moments you forget and relax, and you think, oh, life is beautiful. But it’s only seconds. It’s very hard for me to explain to you and I hope people never feel this, but it’s just like some part of me is always so tense. And I think it will be a big release when the war is over, but not before.”
Raised in a family of modest means in a Warsaw suburb, Swiatek may not fully understand what Ukrainians are going through, but she can empathize and is determined to act. She, like Naomi Osaka and 18-year-old American Coco Gauff before her, are part of a new wave of WTA stars who have made it clear that they do not intend to limit themselves to sports. In recent weeks, Gauff has been vocal about gun violence and the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismissal of Roe v. the United States. Wade.
Martina Navratilova, former world number one. 1 who remains an activist on many frontswatches as Swiatek and Gauf find their voice.
“Socially, the awareness of these two can really change the world,” said Navratilova, who vows to block anyone on Twitter who tells her to play tennis.
There is no saint yet. She is still thinking about how and where to use her influence, but on July 23 in Krakow she is completely ready.
“It’s really important to me,” she said. “It’s like the fifth Grand Slam.”