Wimbledon, England. Lesya Tsurenko’s Wimbledon campaign ended on Friday during a match in which her head was in a different location.
“They are just trying to kill as many people as possible,” Tsurenko said of the Russian military.
Since February, she has become better at holding thoughts of Russian invasion of Ukraine went crazy when I was on the tennis court, but Friday was a bad day. She said she lost her balance from the moment she woke up, “like there was no ground under my feet.” And when she took to the court against Jules Neumeier of Germany, she said she “had no idea how to play tennis.”
Juggling the constant travel, physical and mental work of professional tennis is hard even for the best players. For Ukrainian players these days, who have been away from home for months and spend much of their free time getting news about the health and safety of friends and family at home, the task is monumental.
The good news for Tsurenko is that she seems to have found a semi-permanent home in northern Italy, at an academy run by famed trainer Ricardo Piatti. She has an apartment. Recently, her sister Oksana joined her. So is her husband, Nikita Vlasov, a former military man who is ready to return as soon as he is called, but so far the forces do not need someone of his level.
“We don’t have a problem with people,” Tsurenko said shortly after her defeat. “The problem is heavy weapons.”
Tsurenko left Ukraine before the start of the war, so technically she is not a refugee. Recently, she had to miss the tournament in order to stay in Italy and apply for permission to stay there. She is waiting for approval. Also, her mother, who lives near Nikolaev, in southern Ukraine, does not want to leave. despite heavy bombing. The mother of her sister’s husband also lives there.
Her time playing tennis in England last month gave her a break. Russian and Belarusian players were not allowed to compete at Wimbledon. Knowing how popular President Vladimir Putin is in Russia, Tsurenko suggested that some Russian and Belarusian players probably support him. She said it was best not to run into them in the dressing room, although she will soon do so when the WTA Tour moves outside of the UK and they return to competition.
There have been many matches since the beginning of the war in February. 24, when Tsurenko wondered what she was doing playing tennis. One particular match in Marbella, Spain stands out. In the morning, she saw a photo of the administration building in Nikolaev with a huge hole from a missile strike. She couldn’t get the image out of her mind.
However, recently it has become clearer. She has always played tennis because she loves this game. The wealth that sport offered never motivated her. Now they do.
“Now I gamble,” she said. “I want to earn so much to donate this,” she said. “I feel like it might be a bad quality because it has nothing to do with tennis, but that’s what I play.”
Coming into the tournament, Tsurenko, who holds four career WTA titles and has earned over $5 million, has won $214,000 this year. Making it to the third round of Wimbledon earned her an additional $96,000. For a player ranked 101st in the world, this is a solid month of work. She hopes there will be more this summer.