NEW YORK (Reuters) - Russian defending champion Daniil Medvedev said he was trying to "learn every day" as he began his U.S. Open title defence on Monday against the backdrop of his country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The world number one and his compatriots were banned from participating at Wimbledon amid the invasion that began Feb. 24, which Russia calls a "special military operation" aimed at preemptively safeguarding its security against NATO expansion.
Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of waging an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression.
Medvedev returned to the Grand Slam stage on Monday with a solid straight-sets win over American Stefan Kozlov. He must compete as a neutral participant, as most of the global sporting community moved swiftly to isolate Russia and Belarus, a key staging area for the invasion.
Asked about the ongoing military conflict, the 26-year-old told reporters in Flushing Meadows: "I try to learn every day,"
"Most of my really good friends, they know who I am. I'm still Daniil Medvedev, still play tennis," he said. "I tend to think that I'm quite kind in life."
"The situation in Ukraine didn't change this. And same, you know, about some Ukrainians, there are a lot of good Ukrainians; there are some bad Ukrainians. There are a lot of good Russians; there are some bad Russians."
Medvedev, who previously said he did not object to competing as a neutral, added: "I tried to learn for myself that it's really important, in my opinion, to see person by person."
Tensions simmered in Flushing, Queens, last week when twice Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka pulled out of a pre-tournament Ukraine relief event after Ukrainian players such as Marta Kostyuk said they were unhappy they were not informed of the Belarusian's participation.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)