Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka got into a heated exchange with the media during a press conference last week after she faced a number of questions about the controversial displays of pro-Russian supporters at the Australian Open, arguing that she is an “athlete” being questioned about things outside her control.
After losing the semifinal match in straight sets to Elena Rybakina on Thursday, Azarenka became somewhat combative with a reporter who questioned her about the scrutiny surrounding Russian and Belarusian players since the invasion of Ukraine and if she felt it was difficult to “put all those things out of your mind” while competing.
“Other players get impacted by what exactly are you asking me?” she asked in response.
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The reporter went on to clarify the questions but Azarenka fired back.
“You’re here talking about it right now, so obviously it’s a topic you want to continue to bring up and up and up again. So I don’t know what you want me to say.”
The reporter continued his line of questioning, referencing the incident on Wednesday involving Novak Djokovic’s father ahead of his semifinal match. Srdjan Djokovic was pictured posing with fans holding Russian flags and at least one person wearing the pro-Russian “Z” on his shirt.
“I don’t know what it has to do with Novak at all, to be fair,” Azarenka said. “I don’t know what you guys want us to do about it. Like talk about it? I don’t know what’s the goal here that it’s continuously brought up.”
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She continued: “These incidents that, in my opinion, have nothing to do with players, but somehow you keep dragging players into it. So what’s the goal here? I think you should ask yourself that question, not me.”
Another reporter followed up with questions about pro-Russian demonstrations happening at the Australian Open but Azarenka seemingly had enough.
“Whatever the answer I’m going to give it to you right now, it’s going to be turned whichever way you want to turn it to. So does it bother me? What bothers me is there’s real things that’s going on in the world. I don’t know. Are you a politician? Are you? Are you covering politics?”
When the person responded that they are indeed covering sports, Azarenka replied: “And I’m an athlete and you’re asking me about things that maybe somebody says are in my control, but I don’t believe that.”
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Athletes from Russia and Belarus were barred last year from competing in various sports events, including the men’s World Cup in soccer and Wimbledon, the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup in tennis, because of the war in Ukraine. Russia invaded, with help from Belarus, in February.
Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to play at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open, but as “neutral” athletes, so their nationalities are not acknowledged on any official schedules or results for the event and their countries’ flags are not displayed on TV graphics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.