On Tuesday night at the Monterrey Open in Mexico, 27 year old Ukranian tennis star Elina Svitolina defeated Russian opponent Anastasia Potapova in the round of 32. This match became something much bigger than just tennis due to the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier in the week, Svitolina stated publicly that she would refuse to play Potapova as she stated she wouldn’t play any Russian or Belarusian athletes until the ATP, WTF and ITF required them to forego their countries while competing. This means that they’d be considered neutral athletes not representing any flag or nation.

The next day, those organizations all said that they would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete only as neutral athletes; just as Svitolina had so strongly advocated for. 

A Proud victory   

After the big three tennis organizations complied with Svitolina’s demands, she went out and soundly defeated Anastasia Potapova, her now neutral opponent. Svitolina beat Potapova in two sets, 6-2 and 6-1.

After the match, Svitolina acknowledged that her victory was for so much more than her own success: “For me, playing the match here, I’m not playing only for myself, I’m playing for my country, I’m playing for the help of the Ukrainian army and people in need. Every victory that I’m going to get is going to be very special.”

Svitolina’s commitment and love for her country in such troubling times is one of the most inspirational stories to have come out of this terrifying situation. 

She also stated that she hopes to do everything she can to create worldwide awareness and aid for the reality of what her fellow Ukranians are going through at the hands of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Reuters estimates that at least 9.1K people have already died in this war and 1 million have been displaced in less than two weeks since its start, so this is clearly an issue which should be considered with the utmost seriousness.

She was decked out in her country’s colors of gold and blue and after she defeated Potapova, she proudly made a gesture to the crowd, placing her hand over her heart and waving her racket in the air.

Svitolina’s display of patriotism and defiance in the face of Russian aggression is such an amazing thing to see. 

This is exactly how athletes should be using their platforms, and Svitolina should be an inspiration to the international community who also stand in defiance of Russia’s brutality against the Ukrainian people.

More work to be done 

While this was a huge win for both Svitolina and her country right now, she and fellow Ukranian tennis pro Dayana Yastremska, who also won big at the Lyon Open, know that things are far from okay. 

Yastremska stated after her victory on Tuesday, “This win, compared to what’s going on in my country, is nothing. But I’m happy, at least, I’m also fighting for my country. I’m really proud of the Ukrainians and they’re really heroes. I hope everything is going to finish soon.”

Both women have shown incredible strength and love of country in the face of a very traumatic situation for their country. They’ll both be moving on to the round of 16 in their respective tournaments, and winning has become that much more important.

Whatever the outcome, what these two women are doing for Ukraine right now is so much bigger than them, and their grit and determination on behalf of their homeland  have been something to marvel at.