Two different realities,’ says Ukraine tennis captain Savchuk


Ukraine’s national tennis team say they are existing “in two different realities” as they prepare for a Billie Jean King Cup clash in the United States this weekend while war rages at home.

The Ukraine squad are in the South Carolina city of Asheville to tackle the record 18-time champions with a place in the finals at stake.

However, the brutal fighting 5,000 miles away in Europe remains in the forefront of their minds.

“It’s like living in two different realities,” said team captain and former WTA player Olga Savchuk.

“I can sit here and drink tea while my grandfather and aunt are in a bomb shelter.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is grinding towards the beginning of its third month and with Moscow’s military advance and negotiations largely stalled there seems no immediate end to the fighting.

Thousands have died while millions of people have fled the country.

“At first, we felt guilt because we were not there and now — and it sounds scary — you kinda get used to it, checking your family are OK and checking the news.”

Ukraine player, Katarina Zavatska said she is grateful that her mother and grandmother are safe and staying in her apartment in France where she trains.

However, her father, a five-year-old niece and a pregnant cousin are still in her home city of Lutsk in Ukraine’s north-west.

“It kills you, the worry,” said the 22-year-old. “But if I don’t do something, I feel like I am dying. So just playing tennis helps me feel OK.

“Day by day, on a tennis court is the only place where I can live my life.”

The court for the Friday-Saturday tie in Asheville will boast a ribbon in the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine painted on the court.

The United States Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation have covered the costs of the Ukraine team’s stay.

Physios and masseurs have also been provided as Ukraine’s backroom staff were unable to make the trip.

“We have been made to feel very welcome here and we have received everything we wanted. There wasn’t even a question,” added Savchuk.

The war has cast a shadow elsewhere over this weekend’s qualifiers in the global women’s team tournament.

Defending champions Russia, who had automatically qualified for the final phase, have been expelled.

Belarus have already been kicked out so opponents Belgium were handed a walkover in their scheduled qualifier.

In the remaining ties, four-time champions Italy host three-time winners France.

The Czechs, with 11 titles — six of which have come in the last decade — welcome Great Britain.

Linda Fruhvirtova at just 16 is poised for a debut for the Czechs after the injury-enforced withdrawal of Katarina Siniakova.

Fruhvirtova made her mark in Miami recently where she went to third round, seeing off top-30 player Elise Mertens and former world number one Victoria Azarenka.

Kazakhstan face Germany, Canada welcome Latvia, Poland tackle Romania while five-time champions Spain travel to the Netherlands.

Spain are without injured former Wimbledon and French Open winner Garbine Muguruza and world number three Paula Badosa.

“The news of Garbine made me very sad,” admitted captain Anabel Medina Garrigues who played in the last Spanish team to win the tournament in 2003 when it was still known as the Fed Cup.

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