Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina says she "fights like a Ukrainian soldier" whenever she faces a Russian or a Belarusian player on the court. Svitolina, who has been doing her best to use her position to draw attention to what has been happening in Ukraine for nearly two years now, hasn't been shaking hands with Russian and Belarusian players since returning to tennis in April.
During this year's Wimbledon - where Svitolina made the semifinal just three months after returning from pregnancy - she was an absolute fan favorite. En route to reaching the Wimbledon semifinal, Svitolina edged out Belarusia's Victoria Azarenka 2-6 6-4 7-6 (9) in the round-of-16.
The match was pretty electric as Svitolina had the crowd behind her and it was evident that she badly wanted to get the win against Azarenka. After the match, Svitolina admitted she was playing for Ukraine - didn't want to let her people down - and highlighted it was one of the biggest wins of her career.
Svitolina on facing Russian players during these challenging times
"It’s not any easier, there are still a lot of things happening on and off the court. It takes a lot of energy being around the locker room and playing against them, because I feel they are representing their country and I am representing mine.
It feels a bit like a war, of course it isn’t war but still there are different types of battles within this war, so every time I step on the court against them it is a big motivation and also I know how many people are back in Ukraine watching and I feel this responsibility as well.
It takes a lot of energy out of me, so you have to think that pressure is a privilege. I go out there and fight like a soldier in Ukraine does. It has been an energy-draining year, it is still difficult mentally but I found motivation on a daily basis to continue working on my professional path, because I know I can use it as a platform for more important things and raising awareness about Ukraine and raising money for the children," Svitolina told The Daily Mail. Recently, Svitolina returned to Ukraine for the first time since February to visit her family and friends.