The impact of the war in Ukraine on tennis has been constant and never-ending. Fifteen months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war shows no end in sight. (Belarus has provided a staging ground for Russian soldiers, and its leader has said the country would join the war if attacked.)
Belarus and Russia have been banned from team tennis competitions, and their flags and country names have been banished from the sport. The moves have left players from Ukraine unsatisfied and players from Russia and Belarus feeling like pariahs.
The tension on Sunday was in stark contrast to the otherwise celebratory feel of the first day of the French Open. It is often one of the most joyous days in tennis, especially with the sky sparkling with that special shade of bright Parisian blue. There is no red like the red of the clay courts of Roland Garros, no crowd that looks as effortlessly elegant as this one: the Panama hats, the silk spring dresses, the aperol spritzes in fancy glasses in seemingly every other hand.
The absence of the injured star Rafael Nadal, whose record 14 men’s singles titles have made him synonymous with this event, is weirding everyone out. But as Nadal has said, tennis moves fast and waits for no one. The rousing roars whenever a French player was in action echoed across the grounds as loudly as they ever have.
As Kostyuk and Sabalenka made clear, though, the war may very well make this tournament and tennis summer unlike any before it. On Monday, Elina Svitolina, among the most successful players Ukraine has produced, will make her Grand Slam return from maternity leave, against Martina Trevisan of Italy. Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, whose grandparents had to leave their home and whose parents’ home was bombed, will play Diane Parry of France on Tuesday in her first match after her emotional run to the Italian Open final this month.