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Aryna Sabalenka overcomes Wimbledon ban, ‘politics’ to make US Open semis

Aryna Sabalenka advanced to the US Open semifinals for the second straight year. (Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Aryna Sabalenka advanced to the semifinals of the US Open for the second straight year after a straight-set win Wednesday over Karolina Pliskova, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).

The Belarusian player said her exclusion from Wimbledon gave her extra motivation at the U.S. Grand Slam. Russian and Belarusian players were banned from competing at the grass-court major after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“They took away one opportunity from me, and I work really hard for this one,” Sabalenka said. “It was a tough time, especially when I was working out in the gym and there was Wimbledon playing on the TV. I was always turning it off because I couldn’t watch it.

“I had a lot of good memories from there, and I miss it very much. That’s why I wasn’t able to watch it, because it reminded me about the great time I had there.”

While Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to compete at the US Open, the tournament is not announcing their nationalities during on-court introductions. ESPN has not been displaying their nations’ flags during its broadcasts.

Sabalenka has not commented publicly on the war in Ukraine.

“I’m just trying to think in that way, that I’m just an athlete and I have nothing to do with politics,” she said.

The 24-year-old will next play world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals Thursday night. Swiatek advanced with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) win against Jessica Pegula.

“I’m just trying to play my best and make sure that people enjoy watching my matches. It’s going to be tough, and I know I have to really work hard for this win,” Sabalenka said. “Now I will just go there and fight for every point.

“[Swiatek] is a great player, always tough matches against her. She’s moving well, hitting the ball really well, serving well. She’s a tough opponent, but I’ll do my best there and I’ll make her work as much as I can.”