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Tennis-Sabalenka ignores Ukrainian ‘hate’ with eyes on number one at Roland Garros


By Rohith Nair

(Reuters) – Aryna Sabalenka’s opening match in her quest for a second Grand Slam title has political undertones when she faces Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk at the French Open on Sunday, but the Belarusian has not time to delve on any negative feelings towards her.

Kostyuk has maintained she will not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus, who she feels have not done enough to speak out against the invasion of her country.

Belarus is being used as a key staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow terms a “special operation”.

“I don’t want to waste my energy on this kind of stuff. This is like, it’s not about — it’s none of my business. So if she hate me, okay. I can’t do anything about that,” Sabalenka told reporters ahead of the tournament.

“There is going to be people who loves me, there is going to be people who hates me. If she hates me, I don’t feel anything like that to her.”

For Sabalenka, her eyes are not just on the prize after winning the Australian Open in January but also the number one spot in the women’s rankings that was once a distant dream at the start of the year.

Iga Swiatek was miles ahead at the top but the Belarusian has closed the gap in recent months, even beating the world number one in the Madrid clay to show she is ready to move into the second week at Roland Garros for the first time.

There are several permutations at play depending on the progress made by the two top seeds and although Sabalenka said she is not focusing on rankings, she is licking her lips at the prospect of reaching the summit.

When asked if she was ready to be number one, she smiled and said: “Yes, I think so. I think I improved a lot and I have everything to be number one.”

Another player who also has a slim chance of taking the number one spot is Stefanos Tsitsipas but the Greek’s fate is not in his own hands and he is in a four-way battle with Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic.

Unlike the other three, Tsitsipas has yet to win a Grand Slam and he begins his campaign against Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely.

“It’s all about getting into the mindset of the Roland Garros final that I had here (in 2021),” he said.

“My capacity is big and grand, and I can feel it. I just need to get a few good first matches to keep believing that I actually can do something this year.”

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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