EXCLUSIVE: 'People Are Dying Everyday' - Elina Svitolina's Voice Is Important For Ukraine - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: ‘People Are Dying Everyday’ – Elina Svitolina’s Voice Is Important For Ukraine

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Elina Svitolina (UKR) playing against Magda Linette (POL) in the second round of the Ladies' Singles on No.2 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 4 Thursday 01/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Jonathan Nackstrand

There was little celebration from Elina Svitolina after she reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon on a grave day for her home country. 

The world No.21 eased to a 6-2, 6-1, win over China’s Wang Xinyu without dropping serve, reaching the last eight of the tournament for the third time in her career. It is a huge boost for the 29-year-old who later admitted she didn’t feel like playing in the wake of a new attack against Ukraine. 

A Russian missile attack struck the country in daylight on Monday which resulted in the deaths of at least 36 people and caused significant damage to the main children’s hospital in Kyiv, according to officials. Reuters News Agency says they have a video showing a missile falling from the sky towards the children’s hospital followed by a large explosion.

“It’s an incredibly sad day today for all Ukrainians. It was really difficult for me to be here (at Wimbledon) in a way and do anything. I just wanted to be in my room, just be there with my emotions, with everything,” said Svitolina.

“Today was one of the days where it was even more difficult because the missile landed on the hospital, the kids’ hospital. Straightaway you see the images and everything that happened there. So many kids lost their lives.”

Svitolina took to the court wearing a black ribbon on her t-shirt in respect to those affected. The gesture was approved by The All England Club which usually has in place a strict all-white policy when it comes to attire. Throughout the war in Ukraine, she has spoken numerous times about the conflict and is an ambassador her the United24 fundraising platform, which was set up by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Evgeniy Zukin, who is the executive director of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation (UTF), spoke to Ubitennis following his compatriot’s latest win at SW19. He stresses the significance of Svitolina and her peers to continue speaking out about the war.

“It is important for Ukrainians to keep informing the world of the atrocities that are now happening in Ukraine,” said Zukin. 

“We know the public in the West is tired of bad news. Only disasters like today when many children were killed bring attention back to Ukraine. But unfortunately, people are dying every day and no less than today.”

Zukin’s words are also echoed by tennis journalist Sergey Kontorchik, who is the founder of Великий теніс України which is known in English as BTU. He is based in Dnipro, a city located in the centre of the Dnipropetrovsk Region which borders Donetsk. As somebody living in the conflict zone, Kontorchik is frustrated by the promotion of Russian and Belarussian athletes in the media whilst his athletes suffer. 

“No one is interested in the mental state of Ukranian players. You saw how hard it was for Svitolina after the match today,” he told Ubitennis from Dnipro on Monday afternoon.

“For Ukrainians, it is hard and it hurts. Our players receive negative criticism for not shaking hands with representatives of these countries. We are pushed to the background, far away, so as to not bring up an uncomfortable topic, the war, which continues to destroy our country.

“It is important to us (Ukrainians) when players talk and remind the world about the war, that Ukraine is still alive and continues to fight for independence. 

“It’s clear many people have forgotten.”

Wimbledon had previously banned Russian and Belarussian players from competing in the tournament in 2022 amid concerns that those governments could use the event as propaganda. The move prompted backlash from the governing bodies who removed the allocation of rankings points that year. The ban was lifted in 2023. 

“I would prefer that (the ban to still be in place) but it is how it is now,” said Svitolina. “I cannot change. We tried every possible way to talk with many organizations.

“For now I just want to raise awareness, to raise funds for people in need, to raise support for the kids through my foundation, through United24. So many ways we can help people and not only focus on the things we cannot control.”

The hope for Svitolina is that her tennis is providing comfort to those back home. Although dealing with her emotions due to the war is tough.

“I think for many Ukrainians they will share this feeling with me. We feel guilt that we feel happy or that we feel good. Not only because I’m in the quarterfinal of the Grand Slam but in everything,” she explained.

“Like you go on holidays, you feel guilty because you’re not in Ukraine. Many people cannot leave the country. Many people are at war. Many people are fighting, and defending our front lines.

“I think we’ve been living with this feeling for over two years. I mean, it’s nothing new. But yes, of course, it’s not a pleasant feeling to have.”

On court, things are going well for Svitolina. She has dropped only one set in the tournament so far, which was against Magda Linette in the first round. 

“She showed in the last year that she knows how to play on grass,” Zukin told Ubitennis about Svitolina. 

“After beating Ons Jabeur (in the third round) she felt confident and played flawlessly today.” 

Svitolina will next play Elina Rybakina. 

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EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Great Billie Jean King Gives Her Verdict On Jasmine Paolini

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Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss in the Royal Box - Credit: AELTC/Ben Solomon

Billie Jean King has told Ubitennis the game style of Italy’s Jasmine Paolini is ‘perfect’ for the grass as she pays tribute to the 28-year-old. 

King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles in both singles and doubles during her career, praised Paolini just hours before her semi-final match against Donna Vekic. The world No.7 had never won a match at The All England Club until this year but has stormed through the tournament by dropping one set in five matches played. She has beaten players such as former US Open champion Bianca Andreeescu, Madison Keys (who retired at 5-5 in the final set due to injury) and Emma Navarro. 

“I’ve always liked watching Jasmine for a while now, and I got to see her last year at the Billie Jean King Cup,” the 80-year-old told Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta.
“Italy lost to Canada, but I saw her there and she was amazing.
“Finally at 28, she’s she’s doing what I think she should have been doing.”

Paolini is enjoying the best season in her career. She won her first WTA 1000 title in Dubai, reached the final of the French Open and at least the semi-finals at Wimbledon. She is the oldest player on the WTA Tour to reach their first two major semi-finals since 1977, according to OptaAce. 

As for the grass, King says Paolini has a ‘perfect’ game for the surface. Even though the tennis star has previously spoken about her mixed feelings about playing on the surface. 

“On grass. She’s perfect.” King stated. 
“She’s low to the ground, she can volley, she can hit Groundstrokes. Big forehand. Unbelievable.”

Paolini is one of three women aged 28 or older to reach the last four at Wimbledon. Something that last occurred in 2018. As for the reason behind these players coming to top form at a later age, King admits she hasn’t got an explanation. 

“I have no idea.” She said
“I think she’s (Paolini) finally found herself and everybody gets to be their best at different ages.
“This year at Wimbledon, it seems like in the women’s events it’s now that they’re older, they’re doing better. So I don’t get it, to be honest.
“It’s the weirdest Wimbledon ever and I’ve been coming here since 1961!”

King has won an incredible 175 titles during her career in the Open Era. 101 of those were in doubles, 67 in singles and seven in mixed doubles.  

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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-No.1 Nenad Zimonjic Gives His Verdict On Djokovic And The Wimbledon Crowd

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Novak Djokovic might be the headline act when it comes to tennis in Serbia but Nenad Zimonjic also enjoyed his fair share of success in the sport. 

The 48-year-old is a former world No.1 in the men’s doubles which makes him one of only four players from his country to have ever topped the tennis rankings. During his career, he won eight Grand Slam doubles titles with five of them occurring in the mixed doubles. Overall, he won 53 trophies on the ATP Tour, as well as the Davis Cup where he later became the captain of the Serbian team.

Zimonjic has returned to Wimbledon this year to play in the Legends event. He has been keeping an eye on compatriot Djokovic and his bid to claim a historic 25th major title at Wimbledon.

“I think he’s been playing better and better as the tournament progresses.” He told Ubitennis.
“The last match (against Holger Rune), he played the best so far.
I expect him to play even better in the quarterfinal match against Alex de Minaur.”

Whilst Djokovic is gaining momentum, he has unexpectedly taken a swipe at the Center Court crowd following his latest win on Monday evening by accusing some members of being ‘disrespectful.’ Throughout the clash, there were shouts of the words ‘ruuune’ in a show of support for his Danish opponent. However, the world No.2 believes some were using those cheers as an opportunity to take a shot at him. 

Zimonjic, who is a long-time friend of Djokovic that travelled to Monte Carlo and Rome with him earlier this year, is unable to weigh in on this particular argument. However, he defends the British crowd at The All England Club where he made 18 main draw appearances as a professional player. 

“I didn’t get to see the whole match I cannot comment (on Djokovic’s remarks) because I wasn’t there.” He said. 
“But what I can say is that the crowd here (at Wimbledon) is very knowledgeable and really respectful to everybody.
“If there was somebody (being disrespectful to Djokovic) maybe there are a couple of people.
“So you cannot say this about the crowd. I’m sure it’s nothing nothing major.”

Djokovic continues to be a dominant force in tennis at the age of 37 and has no plans to step away anytime soon. However, when he does there will inevitably be a huge gap in Serbian tennis. The country currently has five players in the ATP Top 150 but only two of those are under the age of 25 – Hamad Medjedovic (20) and Miomir Kecmanovic (24). There is also 18-year-old Marko Maksimovic who is currently ranked in the junior top 20 on the boy’s Tour. 

“Hopefully some new, really good generations are coming up. We’ll see what the future brings.” Zimonjic commented. 
“It’s not going to be easy to match any of these results and the standards that he (Djokovic) achieved and all the records speak for themselves.
“Maybe they will never be broken, but, we’ll try to make it as better as possible.”

As for life on the Tour for those players, Zimonjic admits it is tough going due to the demanding schedule which starts from January until November. However, since last year the ATP have agreed to stage their Next Gen finals, which features the eight best players under the age of 21, in December. 

The schedule has been a long-debated subject that goes back to Zimonjic’s days on the Tour. 

“Our season is probably the longest in sport.” He said.
“It’s very demanding on the body, travelling, changing the time zones so you have to be extremely fit, mentally tough, and you need a really strong team around you and family support.
“If this can change, I don’t know. So far they (tennis’ governing bodies) haven’t found a way, but, hopefully, anyway, it got shorter a little bit compared to ten years ago was even longer.
“We had maybe three weeks to prepare for the next to rest and prepare for next season, which was really brutal.
“But the good thing is that tennis is very popular and people are following it.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Sumit Nagal Brings Indian Tennis To The Main Stage But He Has Concerns About The Future

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After spending the past few years predominantly on the Challenger Tour, Sumit Nagal is currently in the midst of a breakthrough season. 

The 26-year-old is ranked 73rd in the world after cracking the top 100 for the first time in February. At the Australian Open, he became the first Indian man to beat a seeded player at a Grand Slam for 35 years after upsetting Alexander Bublik in the first round. Then in Monte Carlo, he became the first singles player from his country to win a main draw Masters 1000 match, as well as the first to qualify for the tournament in 42 years.

Nagal’s rapid rise earned him the right to play in Wimbledon this year for the first time. A big coup for India considering the last time they had a player in the men’s singles draw was Prajnesh Gunneswaran in 2019. Unfortunately, Nagal’s experience at The All-England Club was brief. He lost his opening match  2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6 to Miomir Kecmanovic, as well as in the first round of the doubles event.  

“It was a great experience,” he tells Ubitennis.

“I really enjoyed it. I played on grass after a very long time. I did lack a bit of experience on it but it was a good lesson and an amazing atmosphere.

“What a feeling to play in the main draw of Wimbledon.  It has a very unique and different vibe compared to the other slams.

“It’s not the result I wanted, especially in singles but for the circumstances I had, I think I will take this and try to improve on the things that I need to.”

Incredibly, Wimbledon was the first time Nagal had played a grasscourt event since 2018. Whilst there is clear disappointment about his performance, it doesn’t change what has largely been a strong year for him so far.

“I think the moment of breaking the top hundred because for so long, I was close to it but never really broke it.” He replied when asked what his standout achievement of 2024 has been so far. 

“Also winning the challenger in Chennai,  I did end up crying. That moment meant a lot to me.”

“I see change but not in a positive way”

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Coming from a country that has an estimated population of 1.4 billion people, some might expect Nagal to be hamperedby high expectations or a surge in popularity. However, this isn’t the case.

“In tennis, India’s single tennis players are not really known for it. so I don’t think there is there is a much of expectation.” He explained.

“We have a singles player once in five years who’s playing a slam once in seven years. So I don’t feel it that way.

“I would say there are more expectations from myself because I do want to do well in my career and I want to climb the rankings. Keep on knocking on those doors of different sorts of challenges that I go through.”

There have been plenty of challenges for Nagal throughout his life. As a youngster, he was based in Bengaluru and trained at an academy set up by Mahesh Bhupathi. However, when the facility shut down he ended up setting off to Canada as a teenager to develop his tennis. Over the coming years, he would continue to experience highs and lows. At the 2019 US Open, he famously took a set off Roger Federer but three years later he found himself outside the top 600 due to a combination of injury, the Covid-19 pandemic and his inner demons. At the end of 2022, he had less than €1000 in his bank account. 

Unlike other countries, Sumit relies on private support instead of his national federation, the All India Tennis Association (AITA). 

“It’s a little bit, a little bit tough to get any help from them.” He said.

He doesn’t refrain from speaking openly about the concerns he has about tennis back home. Certain ‘changes’ taking place cause concern for him and his only hope is that action can be taken to correct it. As it currently stands, India has only three players in the top 500 on the PIF ATP ranking but Nagal is the only one in the top 300. To put that into perspective, there are 12 British, 18 Australian and 24 Italian players in the top 300.

“Right now we are struggling in singles especially. We don’t have enough players to compete at the highest levels in singles.” He said. 

“I think it’s gonna take a while. I do see a bit of change but not in a positive way. What is going on in the country, I just hope someone can take a step and start to change things around. Otherwise, it’s going to be very, very tough.

“It’s going to be the same story. One top 100 player in ten years, 15 years, maybe something like this. But if things don’t change around, it’s it’s not gonna be much, much better than this.”

As to what these issues are, Nagal believes the current tennis structure in India is missing the basics. 

“We are still missing a base, a fundamental, a system which is not there. And if you want to play at this level, you need this. This is the most basic thing you can have.” He continued.

“Have few good coaches and have balls to practice. This is just the basic and we don’t really have it.

“I’m not even gonna get into details because the first step would be to have a high-performance program going on.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be by the association or by the private sponsors, but, if you want to create players to play at the high level, you have to give these things or else it’s always going to be a player trying to find private funding, living in outside India, playing either in America or Europe or somewhere.”

The future

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It is no secret that Nagal doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with the AITA and he has voiced similar concerns before. However, that doesn’t affect the national pride he has. Something he hopes to demonstrate at the Paris Olympics which will be held at Roland Garros. At the Tokyo Games, he was the first Indian to reach the second round in 25 years.  

“My goal from the beginning of the year was to play in the Olympics. It’s a proud, proud feeling for me. This is going to be my second, second Olympic.” He said. 

“I’m gonna another chance for me to try my best and and and keep the flag high for India.”

Nagal now aims to play a couple of tournaments on the clay to get ready for Paris. Then the US swing will be calling him. 

“That biggest goal is being healthy because if you’re healthy and you’re playing tournaments, that’s the best thing you can ask for.” He concludes.

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