Emotional Svitolina beats Russian, says she's 'on a mission' for Ukraine

Ukraine's Elina Svitolina reacts after her win over Russian Anastasia Potapova on March 1, 2022 at the Monterrey Open. (AP Photo)

MEXICO CITY — Elina Svitolina put on the yellow and blue colours of Ukraine and beat Anastasia Potapova of Russia 6-2, 6-1 on Tuesday in the opening round of the Monterrey Open, deciding she could do more for her country by playing than boycotting the match.

Top-seeded Svitolina earlier said she wouldn’t play against Potapova in Mexico or against any Russian or Belarusian opponents until the International Tennis Federation and the men’s and women’s tennis tours barred competitors from those countries using any national symbols, flags or anthems.

The tennis governing bodies issued a statement Tuesday confirming that Russian and Belarusian players will still be allowed to play at the top level, but without national flags.

“Today it was a very special match for me,” said the 27-year-old Svitolina, who pounded her heart after the win. “I’m in a very sad mood, but I’m happy that I´m playing tennis here.

“I was focused. I was on a mission for my country,” she said. “From the beginning, it was important to be ready for anything that comes my way.”

Svitolina is a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist with 16 career tour-level singles titles who has been ranked as high as No. 3 and is currently No. 15.

“All the prize money that I´m going to earn is going to be for the Ukrainian army,” said Svitolina, who won this tournament in 2020. The Monterrey Open has $31,000 in prize money for the champion.

Svitolina, who broke serve in the first and third games on the way to a lopsided win over Potapova in 64 minutes, will play against Viktoriya Tomova in the second round.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its sixth day on Tuesday, with a huge convoy of Russian tanks and armored vehicles on a road to the capital, Kyiv, and fighting intensifying there and in other big cities.

Russia shelled several key sites in Kyiv and in the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens of others, Ukrainian officials said.

In her social media post Monday, Svitolina said her objective in demanding tennis follow the International Olympic Committee’s lead and insist that players from Russia and Belarus are only identified as “neutral athletes” was not against individual competitors.

“I do not blame any of the Russian athletes,” Svitolina wrote. “They are not responsible for the invasion of our motherland.”

Meanwhile, Canadian Leylah Fernandez plays her second-round match on Wednesday against China's Zheng Qinwen.

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