Aryna Sabalenka did not participate in a post-match press conference after winning her third-round match at the French Open on Friday, saying in a statement that she did not feel safe after a press conference earlier in the week. Sabalenka, a native of Belarus, had been badgered with questions earlier in the week concerning her stance on the war in Ukraine and Belarus' role as a staging ground for Russia.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Sabalenka was confronted by a Ukranian reporter who asked if she supported Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko or if she would condemn the war in Ukraine, and at one point was accused of avoiding such questions and "twisting it as if Ukrainians hate you." Sabalenka repeatedly declined to field the line of questioning until it was shut down by moderators.
After her win on Friday, Sabalenka instead offered comments to the media through an interview released by tournament organizers at Roland Garros. According to Reuters, a spokesperson said that Sabalenka would not be fined for skipping press conferences, saying that tournament organizers supported her choice as to "protect" her. Organizers also said that whether she attended other post-match press conferences would be her decision.
"After my match (on Wednesday) I spoke with the media like I normally do. I know they still expect some questions that are more about the politics and not so much about my tennis," Sabalenka said. "For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts. These questions do not bother me after my matches.
"I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in the press conference."
Sabalenka said in March she struggled to understand the "hate" that she had experienced in locker rooms amid strained relationships between athletes from the Russia, Ukraine and Belarus regions. Such tensions were on display at the French Open when Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Sabalenka after their opening round match.
Addressing Kostyuk's snub during a Sunday press conference, Sabalenka took a decidedly anti-war stance.
"Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody," Sabalenka said. "How can we support the war? Nobody -- normal people -- will never support it."