Billie Jean King Cup: Ukraine captain is "living in two different realities"

Ukrainian tennis player

Ukraine’s Billie Jean King Cup captain Olga Savchuk has described how it feels to be “living in two different realities.”

The Ukrainian squad has travelled to the United States to contest their qualifying match for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

Asheville Civic Center in North Carolina is set to host the fixture, with the best-of-five rubbers scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday.

Team captain Savchuk, a former world number 79, revealed the ongoing conflict back home was still at the forefront of her players’ minds.

“It’s like living in two different realities,” she said. “I can sit here and drink tea while my grandfather and aunt are in a bomb shelter.”

“At first, we felt guilt because we were not there and now – and it sounds scary – you kinda get used to it, checking your family are OK and checking the news.”

Dayana Yastremska and Katarina Zavatska, alongside twin sisters Nadiia Kichenok and Lyudmyla Kichenok, are set to represent Ukraine against 18-time Billie Jean King Cup winners US.

“It kills you, the worry,” said Zavatska, who has a father, five-year-old niece and pregnant cousin still living in her home city of Lutsk.

“But if I don’t do something, I feel like I am dying. So just playing tennis helps me feel OK. Day by day, on a tennis court is the only place where I can live my life.”

Yastremska and her sister Ivanna fled Ukraine last month following Russian bomb attacks on their home city of Odessa. Just three days later, the pair competed in the doubles tournament in Lyon.

Ukraine will be missing their highest ranked player – Elina Svitolina – for the qualifiers. The world number 25 admitted she had been spurred on to continue playing through a back injury, but now needed to take a break.

“It’s been an extremely difficult month for me, not only mentally but also physically,” Svitolina said.

Ukrainian tennis player Dayana Yastremska

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the country was expelled from the Billie Jean King Cup, despite being defending champions.

The United States Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation covered the costs of the Ukrainian team’s trip, and the court is set to boast the blue and yellow colours of the country’s flag.

Billie Jean King is personally donating $50,000 (£38,076) to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, the USTA is donating 10 percent of ticket revenue from the event, and local sponsors have also pledged donations based on ticket sales.

“We have been made to feel very welcome here and we have received everything we wanted. There wasn’t even a question,” Savchuk said.

Jessica Pegula, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Asia Muhammad and Desirae Krawczyk are all set to represent the US.

For everything you need to know about the Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers, click here.

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