US Open tennis stars help raise $1.2m for Ukraine crisis

The tennis stars at the US Open lifted a racket for Ukraine in more ways than one. Wednesday evening, as part of the “Tennis plays for peace” event in New York, they once again signified that the tennis world paid attention to the horrific humanitarian crisis that resulted from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And in the process, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and its partners have already helped raise more than $1.2 million for relief efforts in Ukraine. At the same time, they and the tennis stars who took part in the event, such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, John McEnroe, Dayana Yastremska and Sergiy Stakhovsky, drew attention to what is happening in Ukraine. It was the last end of what has been a world tennis rally for Ukraine since the Russian military first tried to break through the country in late February.

It can be hard to imagine that such a brutal invasion by Russia didn’t get enough attention. After all, in just over six months it has left over 5,587 Ukrainian civilians and 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers dead, 6.6 million refugees and $113.5 billion in damage to the country, according to Alan Yuhas writing for the New York Times. There are also continuing reports of Russian troops committing atrocities such as murder, torture, looting and rape. The Russian military also bombed kindergartens and orphanages, not exactly military targets, unless you somehow consider toddlers, toys and naptime threats majors. This all lines up with what Stakhovsky, a Ukrainian professional tennis player who reached world No. 31 in singles in 2010 and No. 33 in doubles in 2011, described just before returning to Ukraine on Thursday, a day after the tennis games. . for Peace: “Russian troops seem more determined to destroy Ukraine than simply occupy it.” Obviously, when a country tries to do such things to another country, especially a much smaller country, the situation deserves a lot of attention.

Yet these days, attention spans can last about as long as the time it takes someone to change clothes on a TikTok video. Of course, there was an initial surge in media coverage shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, which was a bit like calling a missile or a pizza with grenades on it a “special delivery.” Since then, however, the frequency and importance of news from Ukraine has gradually faded, as many people have focused more on the news of the day, such as US politicians who talk about themselves from which way or which reality TV wears what. Stakhovsky mentioned how “media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine has diminished in intensity even though the war has continued”. He stressed that “Ukraine is not asking others to wage war in its place. Ukraine is fighting and will certainly fight until the end. He added: “But the odds are not on our side. It helps to get help to level the ground a bit. With the people of Ukraine putting up an inspiring resistance to date, it can be easy to forget just how far Russia outperforms Ukraine.

Once Russia began the invasion, it didn’t take long for the tennis world to spring into action. US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster described how the “T7”, which is made up of the four Grand Slam tournament organizations of tennis, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the Association of tennis professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), “immediately came together to donate $100,000 to the charity Global donations.”

Then, in April, the USTA and its partners raised approximately $250,000 for relief efforts during the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in Asheville, North Carolina, where the United States was playing against Ukraine. As Allaster says, “We wanted Ukrainian players to be welcome and at home. So we deliberately changed this to a “US Hosts Ukraine” event rather than a competition between the US and Ukraine. Naturally, you’ll feel more welcome at a party or any event that doesn’t include your name preceded by the word “versus” in the title. Allaster added that “USTA staff helped the Ukrainian team, including dressing in the colors of Ukraine”, which, if you haven’t seen them yet, are blue and a striking yellow.

The success of this April weekend prompted the USTA to float additional ideas such as making the US Open, “a platform to remind the world that the war continues”, in Allaster’s words. . It could potentially be a ginormous or huge platform, as the US Open with all its players from so many different countries arguably has a bigger global reach than any other annual sporting event. Indeed, the US Open has been open enough to support Ukrainian relief efforts.

All the USTA and its partners then had to do was reenact the Tennis Plays for Peace event that would take place during “US Open Fans Week” before the opening of the US Open main draw. Coincidentally, Ukraine’s Independence Day fell in the middle of this week. It is appropriate to hold the event on this day, because independence is exactly what the anti-peaceful invasion of Russia tried to reverse.

Getting players to play for peace has proven to be child’s play, so to speak. “That was one of the easiest asks for players,” Allaster said. “Many offered a quick ‘yes’, saying they would be honored to participate. In fact, we had too many players who wanted to participate. That left plenty of options to fill the two-hour tennis exhibition, which kicked off with twelve-year-old Ustyn Chornyy of New York’s Dumka Ukrainian Chorus singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

The first exhibition match featured 2022 French Open champions Nadal and Swiatek teaming up against Gauff and McEnroe to see who could take a mixed doubles tiebreaker. During the match, Swiatek and Nadal threw a few trick shots, including a volley behind the back, between the legs and a back to the net between the legs while running to collect a lob as seen here:

Meanwhile, McEnroe threw his racquet several times. But McEnroe couldn’t have been serious every time he did, because it was a fun exhibit for a good cause.

After the match, Swiatek said: “I want to take every opportunity to show people that we can all be united and we can all do something to help things in Ukraine.”

In total, the total of five doubles tiebreaker matches featured a total of what the USTA describes as 21 current and former tennis players. Although, since you can play tennis at almost any age that you can hold a racquet, “former” professional tennis players are still “current” tennis players. The roster included current Ukrainian pros Yastremska, Katarina Zavatska and Daria Snigur as well as former Ukrainian pros Stakhovsky and Olga Savchuk, who is now the captain of the Ukrainian Billie Jean King Cup team. The more than 6,000 often vocal fans in attendance were also able to watch Carlos Alcaraz, Leylah Fernandez, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jessica Pegula, Matteo Berrettini, Maria Sakkari, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton hit the court. Speaking of plenty, here’s a video of Paul using a racquet way too big for him and just about anyone under twenty feet:

Talk about lifting a big racket for Ukraine. The colors blue and yellow were also present in abundance on the field and in the stands of Louis Armstrong Stadium.

All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund of GlobalGiving, the official charity of the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative. These will in turn go to “about 20 local NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working on the ground in Ukraine,” according to Allaster. Examples of projects supported by the fund include Emergency aid and medical care for Ukrainian refugees by Peace Winds Korea, Helping Children with Cancer by Tabletochki Charity Foundation, Support Children’s Hospitals by the charity Bright Kids Charity, and Support Children and Families in Ukraine by UNICEF USA. The goal of the USTA and its partners is to raise at least $2 million for GlobalGiving by the end of the US Open.

Reaching the $1.2 million mark made Wednesday’s exhibit a “smashing” success. The next service will be other efforts throughout the duration of the US Open to raise awareness and help Ukraine. For example, a performance by the Ukrainian Dumka Choir from New York will be part of the US Open opening night ceremonies tonight.

Stakhovsky mentioned other things the tennis community has done for Ukraine. “The amount of personal messaging has exploded from both the ATP and WTA. People have really gone the distance.” He added how various “clubs and academies have taken Ukrainian kids” and also highlighted how d other tennis players have helped raise funds for the Elina Svitolina Foundationwhich was founded by Svitolina, the Ukrainian tennis star who was the third female solo player in the world in 2019. For example, on July 23, Swiatek and some of her fellow Polish players played in an “Iga Swiatek and friends for Ukraine”. ” fundraising exhibition that was refereed by Svitolina in Krakow, Poland.

Thus, Swiatek and other members of the tennis community continued to raise a racquet or in fact several racquets for Ukraine. Putin may have thought Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would be quick. If so, six months later the Ukrainian people and their fighting spirit are proving Putin wrong, wrong as a bathroom gong. And while Putin thought the world wouldn’t pay attention to Ukraine after a while, it seems the tennis world isn’t just going to ‘let’ that happen.

Christi C. Elwood