Tennis-It's painful playing against Russians says Ukraine's Tsurenko

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - May 23, 2022 Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko in action during her first round match against Poland's Iga Swiatek REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko on Monday called for stronger support of her country from the tennis world following Russia's invasion and said she was desperate not to play Russians or Belarusian's on the tour.

The 32-year-old Tsurenko, a qualifier in Paris who lost in the first round to overwhelming favourite Iga Swiatek, thanked her opponent for wearing a Ukraine pin but said more players needed to speak out.

"I hate what Russian propaganda is saying about Ukraine in general. I really hate it. I feel a lot of anger because there is a lot of lies about my country and it hurts me a lot," Tsurenko told a news conference.

"I don't know if I can ask players to care more, but I would like to see that from the players, from the WTA, from the ATP, I would like top players just to support more and to show more understanding of what is really going on."

The ATP and WTA Tours last week stripped Wimbledon of its ranking points after the Grand Slam event banned Russian and Belarussian players from this year's tournament.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 calling it a "special military operation" to demilitarise and "de-nazify" its neighbour. Ukraine and the West call that a false pretext to launch a war of aggression.

Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion.

"I don't feel good to play against Russian and Belarusian players just because it reminds me what is going on in my country," Tsurenko said.

"It's painful, I'll be honest. It's very painful and I'm always hoping not to get them in my draw."

She has played against Russians several times this year, including once since the invasion.

"I don't feel good and it was also another question that I had inside of me if I should play or I should just give up, you know, should I just decide not to play against them," she said.

Russian and Belarusian tennis players are competing on the tour as neutral athletes.

Tsurenko backed Wimbledon's decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus, saying it was only a small price to pay for what was happening in Ukraine.

"We see a lot of sports, they banned Russians. In tennis it's only one tournament," she said. "I honestly think that this is not a very big price for them (Russians and Belarusians) to pay or to accept."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Martyn Herman)

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