Russia’s Anastasia Potapova has been reprimanded by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) after she walked out for a match at Indian Wells wearing a Russian soccer jersey.
The World No. 28 walked onto the court for her match with Jessica Pegula on Monday wearing an FC Spartak Moscow shirt, in support of the successful team that plays in the Russian Premier League.
She lost the match 6-3, 4-6, 5-7 but her seemingly innocuous act of donning the red shirt has come under fire because of the signal it sends about her native country Russia.
Potapova was criticized by Poland’s World No. 1, Iga Swiatek, who said it was insensitive in light of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
“To be honest, I was surprised,” said Swiatek, who still wears a blue and yellow ribbon on her cap in honor of Ukraine in every match she plays.
“I thought she realized she should not, even if she’s a fan of the team, show her views in this way at such times. I’ve talked to the WTA and in a way I found out that there should be less such situations because they will explain to other players that you can’t promote any Russian teams these days, which reassured me a bit.
“On the other hand, I think these situations, unfortunately, happen because this (WTA) announcement should have taken place much earlier. There was a lot of chaos in the locker room at the beginning of the war.
“It was not clear how to approach everything, which causes such unpleasant situations. I think if there had been better leadership from the beginning, maybe we would have avoided such situations.”
Earlier in the tournament, Ukrainian player Lesia Tsurenko had been due to play Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka but pulled out of Indian Wells, citing personal reasons.
Tsurenko told Ukrainian media she had a “panic attack” and “mental breakdown” after a discussion with WTA chief Steve Simon, in which she claims the tour boss said players from Russia and Belarus would be allowed to compete at the Paris Olympics.
“I just had a mental breakdown after all the things I’ve heard,” Tsurenko said. “It was a panic attack. I had trouble breathing.”
When asked about Tsurenko, Swiatek said: “I totally understand why she withdrew, because honestly I respect the Ukrainian girls so much, because if like a bomb landed in my country or if my home was destroyed, I don’t know if I could handle that.
“I feel more should be done to help Ukrainian players because everything we discuss in tennis is about Belarusian and Russian players.”
The WTA responded promptly to Swiatek’s comments, issuing Potapova a formal warning.
Potapova said she had supported the team since she was a child and has been pictured wearing the shirt on several occasions, including recently in Dubai in a photo she posted to Instagram.
Wimbledon is yet to decide if it will lift its ban for this year’s tournament, but Potapova will give organizers food for thought about how players can get around flag bans with other displays of patriotism.
Swiatek defeated Emma Raducanu 6-3, 6-1 to progress through to the quarterfinals, where she will face Sorana Cirstea.