The qualifiers for the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup will start Friday, including a matchup between the United States and Ukraine in Asheville, N.C.
Ahead of the competition, Ukrainian players are receiving an outpouring of support as they struggle to balance playing tennis with worrying about loved ones in their home country, where the Russian invasion continues.
“What we’re dealing with is nothing compared to what our families and all the people who are in Ukraine are going through, but it’s been difficult,” Ukrainian team captain and coach Olga Savchuk told ESPN. “There are so many things we can’t organize or do right now, but the [United States Tennis Association] and the [International Tennis Federation] are doing quite a lot for us.”
Still, their minds remain divided.
“We live in two different realities,” she said. “How can I even have a cup of tea right now? My family is like, underground. I have goosebumps when I even talk about it.”
Savchuk will be the only non-player present for the Ukrainian team, which has had its finances frozen. Many of the administrative officials and support staff have been unable to travel due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
As a result, the USTA and ITF are splitting the lodging and travel costs for the Ukrainian team. Additionally, the USTA is providing support to the team at the tournament.
“This is such an unusual situation,” Megan Rose, the USTA’s managing director of major events, told ESPN. “Usually when we’re hosting a team, our questions are like, ‘What kind of milk do you want in the players’ lounge?’ But we’ve been working with Olga closely on identifying what their needs are and how the USTA can support that with different staffing or infrastructure things that we can easily take care of for them. And that’s everything from providing them with an athletic trainer and a massage therapist to having a special liaison, that’s a USTA staff member that’s with them for the entire week, to ensure that they have everything that they need.”
From the qualifier, 10 percent of ticket revenues will go toward relief programs. Local sponsors also have pledged donations while Billie Jean King is personally donating $50,000 to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
In Asheville, a group dinner took place Tuesday between Team USA and their Ukrainian counterparts. The dinner provided a sense of normalcy for the Ukrainian players, who said that they struggle with the guilt that comes with being so far away from those whose lives have been turned upside down.
“It kills you physically. Even though you’re not in Ukraine, you’re worried every day, every second for your family, all the people in Ukraine,” Ukrainian player Katarina Zavatska told the Asheville Citizen Times. “For me, being on court was a little bit, like, unreal, you know? Now … when I’m getting a bit maybe like stressed on the court or something, I’m thinking about, Why would I be stressed? There is so much more going on, so it’s just a tennis match.”