Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka refused to do an official post-match press conference after her French Open match on Friday, claiming she “did not feel safe” when previously questioned about the war in Ukraine.
The world number two did not comment on reports she supports Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko and refused to “flatly condemn” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when asked by a reporter in a press conference on Wednesday.
Belarus is a key military ally of Russia in the conflict.
Sabalenka said Roland Garros organizers had supported her decision not to undertake traditional press duties, instead speaking to a group of selected media following her third-round win over Kamilla Rakhimova.
“For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts,” said Sabalenka, who has met Lukashenko in the past.
“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 press conference.
“I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches. For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today.”
Sabalenka on Wednesday was asked why in 2020 she “signed a letter to support Lukashenko” when “he was torturing and beating up” protestors in the street.
“I have no comments to you, so thank you for your question,” she replied.
It is not clear if Sabalenka will resume official media duties following her last-16 tie against either Sloane Stephens or Yulia Putintseva on Sunday.
“It hasn’t been an easy few days, and now my focus is continue to play well here in Paris,” she added Friday.
After her first-round win last weekend, Sabalenka’s beaten Ukrainian opponent Marta Kostyuk was booed by the French crowd for refusing to shake her hand at the end of the match.
“She never says that she personally doesn’t support this war, and I feel like journalists should… change the questions that you ask these athletes because the war is already there,” Kostyuk told reporters after that match.
The 24-year-old Sabalenka is one of the favorites for the singles title in Paris and will replace Iga Swiatek as world number one if she wins the tournament.