“Sometimes I had to write news while sitting in a shelter, especially during the first months. The alarm sirens were buzzing very, very often. Often there are also sounds of aircrafts, fighting jets, ambulances or fire trucks’ sirens, sounds of explosions, whether a missile hits something or the air defense systems working.”
Sergey Kontorchik is like any other tennis journalist around the world. He follows the sport religiously to keep up to date with the latest developments. The Ukrainian is the founder of website Великий теніс України or as it is commonly known in English BTU. In 2012 he decided to set up a Facebook page to promote tennis in his country. Three years later a website was launched and last year it received more than a million unique visitors for the first time.
“I was inspired by tennis itself and also had this desire to be closer to the tennis world and maybe to attract more Ukrainians into the sport I love,” he tells UbiTennis.
“At first the website was quite small, because I didn’t have any sponsors or team and paid for everything from my own pocket.’
“I began to communicate more with our players, whenever there was a chance, I tried to visit (Davis Cup/Billie Jean King Cup) ties of the national team and other tournaments, take photos and talk to players, to look more into the history of Ukrainian tennis. Since 2015 two more people, as enthusiastic as I am, joined me and BTU. I am very lucky with the team, because without them it wouldn’t be possible to run this project so actively.”
It is hard to fault Kontorcvhik’s commitment as he covers the latest developments occurring at the French Open from his war-stricken homeland. Ukraine has been engaged in a military conflict with Russia since February 24th after they launched a so-called ‘special operation.’ As of May 24th the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been able to verify that 3,942 civilians have been killed and another 4,591 injured. Although it is feared that the toll is significantly higher and the tally doesn’t take into account army deaths.
Kontorchik lives in Dnipro, a city located in the center of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. One of the two areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and goes by the name Donetsk People’s Republic. According to international law the region is part of Ukraine but Russia recognizes it as an independent nation. It is one of the areas which triggered the war.
“I woke up at 6 am because of the terrible crash sounds – our airport was hit with several missiles. I checked my phone and already saw dozens of messages about Putin launching a war and Russian troops moving into our country from multiple directions, that Kyiv and north of Ukraine were attacked from the Belarus’ side. It was terrifying,” Kontorchik said of the moment he found out the war had begun.
“Dnipro was always close to the frontline in Ukraine’s southeast. It has become a hub for war efforts – both humanitarian and military. Dnipro has become a place where the wounded and injured arrive from the front lines, and displaced people come as they flee the war. The same is happening now, only on a much larger scale.” He added.
UbiTennis is the first outlet to give Kontorchik a platform for him to speak about his experiences as a tennis journalist living in a war zone. Due to language barriers we interacted via a translator in order to get accurate accounts. In total more than 6000 words were spoken by him during our interview which covered a whole range of subjects.
In a way tennis has created a small sense of escapism for BTU’s writers and their owner. They have participated in various fundraising events to help support those affected by the war. One of their readers based in Italy sent ‘several pallets’ of medicine to them.
“It takes away time from focusing on this horror going all around. It’s not a relaxation. Yes, it’s a distraction and it reminds you that life must go on, but it’s wrong to view it as a “now I can enjoy my time and get all excited because of tennis” mood,” Kontorchik explains.
“We found out it’s really tough to watch tennis matches for us. You can’t keep your focus or interest. I’ve tried to follow some big matches and couldn’t watch for long. I was losing attention quickly. Imagine when you were so interested in something your whole life and the war makes you almost indifferent to it. Many Ukrainians say it’s tough to watch movies or read books right now. Like your brain resisted it. But it’s important to do something to not lose your head totally.”
Trying to promote tennis in a country stricken by conflict is a tough task. According to one recent report, Russian forces are said to have destroyed at least 130 educational facilities and damaged a further 1500 in Ukraine. Inevitably this will also have an impact on access to sports facilities. As for BTU they have lost all their income from advertisements. Now they rely on donations from their readers to survive.
Dealing with a new reality
Ever since the conflict started, BTU felt the need to give a voice to those in the sport who may not be able to speak with international media. One example is that of Viacheslav Bielinskyi. A 18-year-old who reached a ranking high of No.5 in the juniors last December who says players from Russia have spoken with him about their opposition to the war but they are scared to do so publicly. Those conversations were between players playing on the ITF circuit.
“We have been in touch with our tennis players since the first day of the war,” Kontorchik replied when asked about his bond with his country’s tennis stars.
“Right now we also try to collect their stories on dealing with a new reality, maybe to talk to those, who didn’t have a chance to talk to international media, but want to share their story with us. There are those who want to open up, there are those who want to move forward and maybe leave some horror incidents in the past.”
It seems bizarre in 2022 that some of these interviews were conducted whilst tennis players were hiding in bomb shelters. Those who managed to escape the conflict continue to voice their stance whilst playing. Elina Svitolina has previously spoken about the mental toll the war is taking on her and has raised money for her homeland. Dayana Yastremska donated her prize money won from claiming the Lyon Open title. Meanwhile, former players Alexandr Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky have joined their country’s armed forces.
As for the Russian and Belarussian players, some have voiced anti-war messages but none has gone as far as criticizing their own governments. The main reason for this is likely to be linked to their country’s strict laws which potentially punishes those who criticize the conflict. This is why Wimbledon has decided against putting in place a document players would have to sign condemning their governments in order to play.
However, this argument is one that strikes a nerve with Kontorchik who points out that Russia annexed Crimea back in 2014 but the anti-war laws in Russia didn’t come to publication until March 2022.
“There was a very limited reaction from the famous Russian or Belorussian people in general. Even from those who spend most of their time abroad, even from those who live there with their families. Many tried to speak out only after the sanctions started to prevent them from leading their usual luxurious lifestyle,” he explains.
“So for the Ukrainian players it is like a double-fault: first “out” is you don’t get the response you naturally expect from the friends or colleagues; second “out” is you feel like the entire community of tennis fans, media and authorities don’t get your point at all. If these guys remain silent, Ukranian players obviously keep wondering what they think: maybe they support Putin, maybe they think it’s all Ukraine’s fault, maybe they can’t see the difference between good and evil. It’s crazy. It’s really hard to keep playing and try to build your career, even if you consider solely those factors, not even mentioning about not having a home.”
The conflict has triggered action from the sporting world but in tennis it is also a very divisive subject. The ATP, WTA and ITF have all suspended Russian and Belarussian players from playing under their flag, as well as removing their national federations from team events. Wimbledon has gone a step further by banning them all together which has angered other governing bodies of the sport. Resulting in this year’s Grand Slam taking place without the awarding of ranking points for the first time since the ranking system was implemented nearly 50 years ago.
“This ban was an unexpected, but a very important sign of support to Ukraine, even though some people keep reminding us, they did it solely for the public image,” Kontorchik commented. “But it was also a message to other big tournaments. Wimbledon is the biggest tennis event in history, people outside of tennis know about it and they pay attention to it. Tennis, like any other sport, is an important tool of Russian propaganda and they are milking from their sporting success to the maximum.”
“If we look at it from the point of view of tennis leadership, it seems incomprehensible if they are seriously pushing for the stripping the points from everybody. Under the pretext of protecting the rights of all tennis players, essentially all of them will be punished, with nobody at all to have an opportunity to earn points at Wimbledon. And this is what we called protection of the rights?”
Given the fallout over Wimbledon it is likely the other tournaments will not follow the same precedent unless they are forced to do so.
Which raises the question as to what else could be done? Kontorchik pays tribute to those who have helped raise awareness of the crises, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek who has spoken out about the war multiple times. Andy Murray and Roger Federer are among the players who have made donations to humanitarian efforts. The Swiss tennis federation has hosted Ukrainian players. Finally, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone held a charity event in aid of Svitolina’s foundation.
On the other hand, there is also a degree of disappointment. When fears emerged that Peng Shuai could be under censorship by Chinese authorities, the WTA was swift and decisive in their response by suspending all of their events in China which has cost them millions.
“The actions of the tennis world, of the top players, of the management, have been extremely disappointing in general. Many Ukrainians left comments, they are losing or they’ve already lost a desire to follow this sport if this is its sincere reaction,” Kontorchik believes.
“The war in Ukraine is a “No war” or “Stand for peace” slogans (used in the sport) – but let’s be honest – how can anyone, any sane person, to ever be pro-war and against peace in general?“
Kontorcvhik‘s account of what it is like living in Ukraine during these times really places things into perspective. Like millions of his compatriots, he is inevitably affected by the war. Yet, he still continues to dedicate his time to tennis. Although nobody knows how long for in a country with an uncertain future.
“Let’s be clear, the future of tennis in Ukraine is very, very uncertain. Nobody will care about tennis, when people in Ukraine will not have where to live and what to eat. The UN says prolonged war will push 9 of 10 Ukrainians into poverty or near poverty. 50% of business were shut down already, the other 50% are struggling right now. Our new modern tennis center is destroyed, courts are in no condition for players to train. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.” He concludes.
BTU has set up their own fundraiser to support those who have been displaced in the Dnipropetrovsk Region as a result of the war. You can donate to their appeal by clinching HERE.
EXCLUSIVE: Yoshihito Nishioka’s Coach On Injury Setback, US Open Showdown With Wawrinka
The road to Yoshihito Nishioka’s first round match at this year’s US Open has been a frustrating one.
In June the 27-year-old looked to be on the verge of reaching his best tennis at the French Open where he made the fourth round for the first time in his career. Nishioka’s run in Paris was not a one-off with the Japanese player also making the last 16 of the Australian Open in January. However, since the French Open, he has only been able to register one win on the Tour.
In recent months he has struggled with a stress fracture on his femur that cut short his grass-court campaign and resulted in him missing four weeks of crucial training. After losing his opening match at Wimbledon, he played four tournaments across North America with his sole triumph being against Gregoire Barrere in Cincinnati.
Guiding Nishioka on the Tour is his coach Christian Zahalka who has previously worked with the likes of Marina Erakovic, Nadia Petrova, Kimiko Date and Misaki Doi. The two began working together last year.
“Yoshi injured himself at Roland Garros that pretty much cost us the whole grass court season and we could not practice for a month,” Zahalka told Ubitennis on the first day of the US Open.
“So honestly we are playing a bit catch up to regain form the last few events. But we are getting close.”
Nishioka faces a tricky first round encounter at Flushing Meadows where he will play Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament in 2016. Their only previous meeting saw the Swiss veteran prevail in three sets but that was six years ago in Indian Wells.
“Wawrinka is a highly motivated player at the moment,” said Zahalka. “It will be a difficult first round match with a big fight needed from Yoshi.”
Nishioka is currently ranked five places higher than his upcoming opponent at 44th in the ATP Pepperstone rankings. However, he is yet to shine at the US Open where he will be making his ninth main draw appearance this year. He has lost in the first round six times and the second round twice. The only players he has beaten at the event were Paul-Henri Mathieu in 2015 and Feliciano Lopez in 2019.
Despite the disappointing results, Zahalka is staying upbeat about Nishioka’s chances in New York.
“This is my first US Open with Japanese Rock so I cannot comment on what happened in the past here,” he said.
“But I see no reason why he cannot have success at the US Open.”
Nishioka’s clash with Wawrinka is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. He is one of four Japanese players in the men’s main draw this year.
EXCLUSIVE: Saudi Arabia’s Plans For Hosting The Next Gen Finals
Tennis is heading to the country following weeks of speculation. Although there is likely to be some criticism coming amid the intention of organisers to hold the event during the offseason in December from 2024 onwards.
Sources have confirmed to Ubitennis that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be moved to Saudi Arabia from this year onwards with the inaugural event taking place immediately after the Davis Cup Finals.
Jeddah will be the event’s host city which features the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21. According to those familiar with the situation, the 2023 edition had initially been planned to take place in December but had to be brought forward due to the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. It wasn’t confirmed until last month that the football tournament will be played in Jeddah in what was described to Ubitennis as a ‘last-minute change.’
The prospect of hosting the tournament immediately after the Davis Cup finals could be problematic at the end of a long season. However, this situation is trying to be played down as a one-off.
It will be held on at the King Abdullah Sports City where the venue has six tennis courts just outside the main stadium, as well as another indoor arena that can hold up to 12,000 people. Other events to have been hosted there include the 2021 International Handball Federation Men’s Super Globe tournament, as well as a boxing match between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
What is the most striking aspect of the plans is the report that from 2024 the Next Gen finals will take place over a week during the second part of December which is in the middle of the off-season. It is unclear why the ATP have pushed for such a thing to occur and why they have agreed to this. During the bidding process for a host city, they said the following in March:-
‘This year’s tournament is expected to take place in December, with the exact dates to be determined with the successful bidder.’
One explanation for such a date might be the number of exhibition events that take place in the Middle East during this time. So instead of players participating in them, they would play this event. However, the idea of expanding an already long Tour calendar is one that will attract criticism. Plus there is yet to be any public response from players who might influence the current plans.
ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi recently told The Financial Times that ‘positive’ talks have taken place with officials from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, WTA boss Steve Simon visited the country earlier this year and was said to be highly impressed. It appears that both governing bodies are interested in investment from the country as long as it doesn’t have significant implications on the Tour’s structure which has happened in other sports.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in sports, including the £300M takeover of football team Newcastle United. In golf, they funded the LIV Tour which split the sport before a shock merger between the Tour’s was announced a few weeks ago.
Critics have accused the Middle Eastern nation of using sport to help improve its image which has been marred by allegations of human rights violations. This is commonly known as sportswashing.
One of those concerns is related to LGBT players playing in the country. A Saudi official told Ubitennis that gay players or media members would be welcome with their partners as long as they respect local culture. Basically, public displays of homosexuality will not be encouraged and could prompt a backlash from locals.
“I think the WTA is going to make sure that we are in a safe environment,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis. “All the LGBT players are wise enough to not provoke anything or hold hands when we are not at the (tennis) club.’
“I think we have to respect the culture there but it’s not going to be an issue as the WTA will make sure it is a safe environment for us.”
The Next Gen finals began in 2017 and had been hosted in Milan until now. Previous winners include Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima.
It is understood that a contract confirming the relocation of the event to Saudi Arabia will be signed next month.
Conchita Martinez: How Acaraz Can Improve, Muguruza’s Future And Advice For Andreeva
Almost 30 years have passed since Conchita Martinez won the biggest title of her career at Wimbledon.
In 1994 she battled to a three-set win over nine-time champion Martina Navratilova to become the first-ever Spanish woman to claim the title. The triumph occurred in just her third main draw appearance at the Grand Slam. Since then only one other player from Martinez’s country has managed to emulate her in the women’s tournament. That was Garbine Muguruza in 2017 who has been mentored by the former champion in recent years.
Martinez is in action again this year at The All England Club where she is taking part in the women’s invitational doubles tournament. On Tuesday morning Ubitennis caught up with the former world No.2 during an hour-long media session that featured a series of former champions.
In her home country, the talking point of the sport concerns the rapid rise of Carlos Alcaraz who at 20 has already won one Grand Slam trophy, four Masters 1000 events, and has spent almost 30 weeks as world No.1.
“I think he is already doing an amazing job but, of course, there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Martinez tells Ubitennis.
As to what these improvements are, the 51-year-old believes Alcaraz needs to explore coming to the net more often, especially when playing on the grass. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, in his first four matches played this year, the top seed has come to the net on 83 occasions and won the point 56 times. This equates to a winning percentage of 67.5%.
“I would like to see him, especially on the grass, go to the net a little bit more sometimes,” she said.
“He does this on other surfaces and is very brave. When he’s down a break point and then does a serve and volley to win the point, this is great for his confidence.’
“He needs to work on everything. His slice and going to the net. From the back, he is doing amazing and is very aggressive. He can hold the point when he wants to, so he needs to work on that to become an even better player.”
The current status of Mugurza
Martinez speaks about Alcaraz from the perspective of both a player and a coach. After winning 33 WTA titles before retiring, she went into the world of coaching. Her work with Muguruza was recognised in 2021 when she was named WTA Coach of the Year. She has also had stints mentoring former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova and was captain of her country’s Billie Jean King Cup team.
Martinez’s work with Muguruza has been put on ice for the foreseeable future after the tennis star opted to take an extended break from the sport. She confirmed that Muguruza will not be playing again this year on the Tour and a return date is still to be decided.
“She is taking her time and will not be playing again this year. We will see when she is going to start practising for next year,” Martinez explained.
“Every week we chat and see how she’s doing. She’s enjoying her time off right now.”
Even when Muguruza does come back to action there is no guarantee that this successful partnership will resume.
“We have to see. We stopped as she was going to take a longer time off than expected so we parted ways but you never say no to what may happen in the future,” she commented.
Muguruza’s decision to step away from tennis followed a series of disappointing results. In a social media post earlier this year, the two-time Grand Slam champion said she wanted to spend more time with her friends and family which has been ‘healthy’ for her.
Advice for Andreeva
It is not the first time a player has had to step away from the limelight due to the demands of playing tennis. Trying to deal with Tour life is far from easy, especially for younger players.
One of those rising stars is 16-year-old Mirra Adreeva who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier on her debut. She almost booked a place in the quarter-finals after leading Madrid Keys by a set and 4-1 but lost. If she had won, Andreeva would have been the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since 1997.
So what advice would Martinez, who also reached the fourth round of a major at the age of 16, give to a rising star such as Andreeva?
“You have to have a very good group of people around you that are going to keep you humble and fit,” she said.
“I think she does that. She’s winning matches, going far in Grand Slams, and beating great players.’
“You have to see next year how she will cope with defending points. The most important thing is that she keeps practising and focusing on what she has to do to get better. It’s great what she is doing now but she has to maintain it.”
Martinez won more than 700 matches during her time on the Tour.
Maria Sakkari sets up quarter final match against Caroline Garcia in Tokyo
Marcos Giron battled past Stan Wawrinka in Astana
‘The Full Package’ – Maria Sharapova Hails The Rise Of Coco Gauff
Daria Kasatkina Criticises Decision To Not Use Roof At Sweltering Pan Pacific Open
Novak Djokovic Upbeat About The Future Of Men’s Tennis As He Praises Alcaraz
‘Bulls**t’ – Expert Involved In Simona Halep’s Anti-Doping Case Blasts Four-Year Ban
Maria Sakkari ‘Scared’ Of Anti-Doping Testing Measures After Halep Ban
Gutsy Novak Djokovic Prevails In Grueling Battle With Medvedev To Win US Open
Iga Swiatek Dismisses Criticism Over Recent US Open Exit
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Men’s Final
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Women’s Final
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Faces Sinner Test, Women’s Semis Take Centre Stage
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Sets Rublev Quarter-Final Clash
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Plenty Of Surprises Could Occur In This Year’s Wimbledon Women’s Draw
Hot Topics3 days ago
Elena Rybakina’s Coach Blasts The WTA After Player Withdraws From Tokyo
Hot Topics2 days ago
South Korean No.1 Kwon Faces Disciplinary Action After Asian Games Meltdown
Latest news2 days ago
Daria Kasatkina beats Marta Kostyuk to advance to the second round in Tokyo
Latest news2 days ago
Eight of the top 10 players in the line-up in Beijing
Hot Topics1 day ago
Fit-Again Holger Rune Targets ATP Finals Qualification
Latest news2 days ago
Alexander Zverev beats Roman Safiulin to to claim his second title of the year in Chengdu
Hot Topics1 day ago
Carlos Alcaraz Set For China Debut With Eyes Set On Reclaiming No.1 Spot From Djokovic
Latest news1 day ago
Iga Swiatek survives Mai Hontama to reach the quarter final in Tokyo