Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka pulls out of Ukraine aid event amid ‘sensitivities’

Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian former world No 1, has pulled out of the Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition aimed at raising humanitarian aid for Ukraine because of the sensitivities of the Ukrainian players, the US Tennis Association said on Wednesday.

With the US Open beginning on Monday, the tournament-long initiative was to launch on Wednesday – Ukraine Independence Day – with the exhibition event at the Louis Armstrong Stadium including the women’s world No 1 Iga Swiatek, Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe. But Ukrainian players including Marta Kostyuk were unhappy they were not made aware of, or consulted about, Azarenka’s participation in the event, especially one being staged on Ukraine Independence Day.

Belarus is being used as a staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which it has termed a “special military operation”.

“In the last 24 hours, after careful consideration and dialogue with all parties involved, Victoria Azarenka will not be participating in our Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition,” the USTA said in a statement. “Vika is a strong player leader and we appreciate her willingness to participate. Given the sensitivities to Ukrainian players, and the ongoing conflict, we believe this is the right course of action for us.”

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from playing at Wimbledon but will be allowed to compete at Flushing Meadows in the season’s final grand slam, which runs until 11 September.