TURIN, Italy — When professional tennis took a few minutes Friday night during the ATP Tour Finals to honor a handful of players who had announced their retirement from the sport this year, one stepped onto the court of the Pala Alpitour stadium wearing tired military clothes.
It was Sergiy Stakhovsky from Ukraine, whose retirement went differently than everyone else.
Stakhovsky’s tennis career, which included eight ATP singles and doubles titles and an appearance at the 2012 Olympics, came to an abrupt end in February when he became a soldier. Stakhovsky, 36, knew nothing about rifle shooting, throwing grenades or shooting darts at the time. Now that he has spent much of the last few months near the front lines in eastern Ukraine, he knows a lot.
“Everyone there is tired,” he said Friday evening after the ceremony, referring to Ukrainian forces, who know that although they are advancing, Russia is still killing civilians and hitting military targets. ‘infrastructure. “A lot of Ukrainian soldiers are dying, and I guess those are the only things we think about while we’re doing it.”
In recent months, he has patrolled and helped clean up towns taken over by Ukraine. Its next rotation in the eastern region of Donetsk begins on December 18.
It is an existence that has nothing to do with the rarefied life he once led, traveling the world to play tennis and running his wine estate, in Zakarpattia, near the western border of Ukraine, where he grew Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and other grape varieties.
That previous existence rarely comes to mind, Stakhovsky said, although he does keep in touch with professional players like Elina Svitolina who send support and seek news from the battlefield. Most have left the country to pursue their careers and stay safe while sending financial aid and other forms of support home.
“I think it’s harder when you’re away,” he said of those who were gone, as they searched for scraps of information, worried about family and friends and struggled to adapt to war as a way of life. “Unfortunately, our body, the human being, we can adapt to do anything. So you adapt to the bombings. You adapt to the fear.
As he spoke, Andrey Rublev from Russia took the court to play Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece. Deniil Medvedev of Russia had faced Novak Djokovic of Serbia that afternoon.
Stakhovsky and other Ukrainian players said that Russian and Belarusian players should be barred from competition during the war. For the most part, professional tennis did not take this step, instead banning these countries from team competition and removing all symbols of their countries, such as their flags.
Sports leaders say it is unfair to hold Russian and Belarusian athletes accountable for the actions of their governments, and while Stakhovsky acknowledges that view, he finds the silence of most Russian players shameful. Rublev was the only male player to publicly advocate for peace and support critics of war.
“Mainly all Russian athletes or Russian tennis players are silent, and they are neutral and they say, you know, ‘this is politics for me,'” Stakhovsky said. “It’s not politics. It’s a war.
History, he says, and perhaps even their children, will judge them.
“At the end of the day, when the war is over and the questions are being asked by their children or whoever, ‘What did you do to prevent this from happening? What did you do to make it stop? they won’t be able to answer that question, because they haven’t done anything,” Stakhovsky said. “They remained silent and they did nothing.”
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