New French Open women’s champion Iga Swiatek has urged Ukraine to “stay strong” following the invasion by Russia.
Minutes after she had crushed American Coco Gauff 6-1 6-3, the Pole, who played the entire tournament with a blue-and-yellow ribbon pinned to her cap, said on Saturday: “I would like to say something to Ukraine. Stay strong, the war is still there.
“Since my first speech in Doha (in February) basically I was hoping when I am doing the next one the situation will be better.
“But I still have hopes and try to support, so thank you guys,” said the 21-year-old amid roaring applause from the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Swiatek, who is on a 35-match winning run, had addressed the situation in Ukraine following her title win in Doha on February 26, two days after Russian troops had launched the invasion.
The men’s and women’s tennis tours have banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, but allowed players from the two countries to compete as neutrals.
Poland was the European Union country that in March granted temporary protection to the highest number of Ukrainians fleeing war, with 675,085 Ukrainians seeking refuge there, EU data shows.
Gauff praised Swiatek for mentioning Ukraine, saying it was important to speak out.
“I think it’s wonderful she brought that (Ukraine) up in her speech. I thought that was really nice and thoughtful of her,” said Gauff, who earlier this week appealed for an end to gun violence in the United States following recent mass shootings.
“I think in general using sports as a platform is important. It’s important that we mention these things. Writing something isn’t going to end it… but for me, it’s about influencing the leaders that are in office and leaders around the world maybe to hear that message.”
The war has triggered Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the end of World War Two, as more than six million people fled Ukraine, a United Nations’ migration report has said.
Swiatek ruthlessly crushed American teenager Gauff with her punishing groundstrokes to end the encounter in just over an hour.
Swiatek, who dropped just one set in the entire tournament, had earlier teared up when hearing the Polish national anthem following her win.