Ukrainian tennis players live ‘parallel lives’ at the Billie Jean King Cup


In Asheville, North Carolina, the Ukrainian girls’s tennis group is within the midst of their match towards Crew USA for the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers. In the meantime, bombs rain down on their hometowns as struggle rages on in Ukraine.

“I really feel like we’ve two totally different realities proper now. The tennis court docket, a tremendous environment, wonderful area right here. After which on the opposite facet, we’ve individuals dying day-after-day,” Katarina Zavatska advised CNN Sport.

Regardless of a valiant restoration from 2-0 down, a surprising fightback finally fell simply brief as Crew USA edged Ukraine within the deciding doubles sport to take the tie 3-2 on Saturday.

Yastremska, ranked 93rd on the earth, had crushed world No.14 Jessica Pegula earlier than Zavatska pulled off a good larger upset to defeat Shelby Rogers, ranked 155 locations above her to attract Ukraine degree at 2-2.

Nevertheless, a 7-6(5) 6-3 doubles victory for Pegula and Asia Muhammad over Kichenok and Yastremska noticed the US progress to the finals in November.

Leaving Ukraine

Dayana Yastremska serving against Alison Riske during the first round of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier on April 15, 2022.

Lower than three months in the past, each Kichenok and Yastremska have been removed from the tennis court docket, fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On February 25, Kichenok left Ukraine together with her mother and father. She drove for 31 hours straight from Kyiv to Chisinau, Moldova — a 500-mile journey.

“Truthfully, I’ve by no means skilled such a worry in my life. My physique was shaking for 2 hours. I could not speak. Like, it was actually stunning. And yeah, a pair days I could not eat something,” Kichenok stated to CNN. “These days have been like probably the most troublesome in my life, I can say for positive.”

Lyudmyla’s sister, Nadiia, had left Ukraine early to organize for Indian Wells Open and discovered concerning the struggle on the information.

“I knew my sister’s there in Kyiv, my mom is there in Kyiv, my dad is in Kyiv. And it was simply — till they arrived to Moldova — simply two days of hell,” Nadiia advised CNN Sport. “I imply, I’ve by no means skilled something like that. This worry is simply laborious to precise. It was pulling me aside. I had fixed panic assaults.”

Yastremska crossed the Danube River into Romania from Izmail together with her youthful sister the identical day the Kichenoks left Kyiv. However in contrast to Lyudmyla, the Yastremska sisters needed to depart their mother and father behind.

“That day I’ll bear in mind for all my life once I was leaving, particularly after we crossed the border,” Yastremska advised CNN. “You see your mother and father on the opposite facet of the river and also you simply did not notice until the top how this occurred, how this stuff can occur in 2022.”

Enjoying tennis and being at struggle

At first, it was laborious for Lyudmyla to play tennis. When she arrived at Indian Wells in California, she struggled to reconcile the peace she noticed on the court docket with the struggle being waged on her dwelling.

“My first day on web site, that tennis heart was stunning. I used to be shocked how individuals can nonetheless snort. They have been laughing, simply dwelling a traditional life,” Lyudmyla stated. “I did not perceive how is it potential as a result of my thoughts was nonetheless there.”

Yastremska has additionally struggled with sustaining her concentrate on the tennis court docket. Over time, enjoying has gotten simpler, however most of her ideas are nonetheless with Ukraine.

“Properly, I am not going to lie even to myself. It is very laborious. I am making an attempt to faux like I am fairly robust and I can play and stuff, but it surely’s not true. It is very laborious,” she defined.

Savchuk describes it as a “parallel life.” When she appears round her, she sees individuals dwelling usually however her coronary heart stays in Ukraine the place struggle rages on.

Nadiia although has discovered some solace on the court docket. Enjoying tennis forces her to place her telephone down for a few hours and distract herself from the fixed information of struggle in Ukraine.

Like Nadiia, Zavatska has additionally derived some consolation from tennis. She’s grateful for the chance to play tennis, contemplating the dire scenario in her dwelling nation.

Katarina Zavatska talks with her team following her loss to American Jessica Pegula in the first round of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup qualifier.

“Tennis is, for me, the one place the place I really feel alive, the place I really feel that I can dwell and that I do not take into consideration the information. I do not take into consideration dangerous issues. I solely take into consideration the ball, that I am on the court docket, that I simply do my job,” Zavatska stated.

“It is such a giant probability to do that, to have the ability to have all the things, what I’ve proper now, each second to have the ability to play tennis. It is simply wonderful. You recognize, what an opportunity in any case, what an opportunity to be a tennis participant.”

Discovering assist on the court docket

The gamers are doing all the things they’ll on and off the court docket to assist their households and pals again in Ukraine. Zavatska makes use of the cash she earns enjoying tennis to assist her household as a result of, proper now, nobody else has a job.

“It is numerous issues. It’s important to, you need to pay the payments, you need to take into consideration others, you need to assist others,” she defined. “It isn’t a strain, but it surely’s one thing the place I really feel like I can do and what I am doing day-after-day.”

Yastremska donated all her prize cash from her run within the Lyon Open to reduction efforts in Ukraine and has been utilizing her personal charitable basis for humanitarian support. Whereas Yastremska needs to go dwelling and see her mother and father, she is aware of she will be extra useful by utilizing her platform as a tennis participant.

“I do know that as a result of I’m an expert tennis participant, I’ve extra alternatives to speak about it. I’ve extra alternatives to assist,” she stated.

Katarina Zavatska returns a serve from Jessica Pegula during the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup qualifier.

However the Ukrainian gamers are actually not alone of their endeavors. Crew USA confirmed their assist for his or her opponents with a dinner on Thursday forward of their first matches. On the dinner, Crew USA gifted every member of the Ukrainian squad a blanket adorned with each the US and Ukrainian flags and the message: “We stand with you.”

A month forward of the match on March 18, the USTA introduced that 10% of the ticket income from the occasion could be donated to the Ukraine Disaster Aid Fund by International Giving and that native sponsors of the occasion would additionally make donations.

On April 7, the USTA additionally introduced that Billie Jean King would attend the match alongside together with her accomplice Ilana Kloss. King and Kloss have additionally made a $50,000 donation to the Ukraine Disaster Aid Fund.

Discovering energy in Ukraine

When the struggle broke out, each Nadiia and Zavatska have been shocked and amazed by the facility and unity they noticed of their nation and their individuals.

“Folks in Ukraine, they’re so robust proper now. I imply, they’re amazingly robust. I did not know that this energy exists,” Zavatska stated.

The whole Ukrainian group is empowered by the energy they see of their dwelling nation and that is the one factor they need the world to know concerning the nation: its energy.

Ukraine fans cheer during the match between Dayana Yastremska and Alison Riske in the first round of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup qualifier on April 15, 2022 in Asheville, North Carolina.

“I believed I at all times had a worry, however evaluating to these individuals [back in Ukraine], they do not have a worry. They go only for all the things. They’re prepared for all the things,” stated Yastremska.

“I am very happy with everyone there, and I am happy with being Ukrainian, happy with Ukraine, happy with everyone who’s on the market combating for the nation.”

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