(Reuters) - Belarusian twice Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka has pulled out the “Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition” to raise humanitarian aid for Ukraine given the sensitivities of the Ukrainian players, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said on Wednesday.
With the U.S. Open set to begin on Monday, the tournament long initiative was to launch on Wednesday - Ukraine Independence Day - with the exhibition event at Louis Armstrong Stadium that would include women's world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, Rafa Nadal, John McEnroe and others.
Ukrainian players such as Marta Kostyuk were unhappy that 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” this evening," the USTA said in a statement.
"Vika is a strong player leader and we appreciate her willingness to participate," it said. "Given the sensitivities to Ukrainian players, and the on-going conflict, we believe this is the right course of action for us."
Tennis Plays for Peace, comprised of all seven of tennis’ governing bodies including the four Grand Slam events, has raised more than $1 million in humanitarian aid and expects to raise at least $2 million more over the course of the U.S. Open.
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 tournament, which runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 11.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Bill Berkrot)