Tension Overshadows the Tennis Between Sabalenka and Svitolina

Her victories set up the showdown with Sabalenka, which immediately felt like so much more than a match between two tennis players.

This was Ukraine against Belarus, a well-loved player in the sport against a 25-year-old whom fans are still getting to know. One had become a leading figure in popular culture in war relief efforts; the other had not made it clear where her loyalties lied.

Under pressure from the Ukrainian journalist, Sabalenka had said she did not support the war — “Nobody normal will ever support this war,” she said — but had not renounced her support of Lukashenko.

Tennis-wise, it was a duel between a grinding retriever, Svitolina, and perhaps the women’s game’s biggest hitter, Sabalenka, and it quickly became clear that unless Sabalenka’s old erratic self emerged, this was not going to be Svitolina’s day. Sabalenka stayed steady, and Svitolina was out. Sabalenka will face Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals Thursday.

Then came the awkward standoff at the end, and even some boos for Svitolina’s actions as she packed her bag, with Sabalenka waiting at the net, and as she left the court.

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