Tumaini Carayol

21 Jan 2024

The Guardian


Marta Kostyuk believes that tennis has forgotten the war in Ukraine and she hopes that the success of Ukrainian women at the Australian Open will generate further attention for the issue as she reached the quarter-finals of a grand slam tournament for the first time in her career.

“I hope so because it really seems for a lot of people that it’s over,” said Kostyuk. “Something incredible happened. Ukraine managed to not be [captured] in three days, in Kyiv as well. So it was like all a miracle. I feel it’s not a miracle anymore, so why talk about it? Yeah, I hope that the [Ukrainian] girls can keep on doing what they’re doing and reminding as much as possible.”

On Sunday Kostyuk took a long awaited step forward in her career as she outclassed Maria Timofeeva of Russia 6-2, 6-1 in the fourth round. Kostyuk was once one of the most highly touted youngsters of her generation after she reached the third round of the Australian Open at 15 years old as a qualifier. Between her great athleticism, variety and her smooth, potent groundstrokes, her talent suggested that she was destined for a deeper run one day.

Now 21 and ranked No 35, Kostyuk’s rise has been more gradual than she would have hoped, but despite various setbacks she has kept on moving forward. Off the court, Kostyuk has been a candid speaker since her youth, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to her becoming one of the most outspoken and vocal players on the subject of the war.

“The war is still there,” said Kostyuk. “People are still dying every day. I still don’t understand what all these players are doing here. Nothing really changed in my world. I feel like in general it’s a lot of processes happening to come to this point where people forget about it because, yeah, people get used to it. I understand that everyone has their own issues, and everyone is focused on their thing. I think I’m here to remind everyone all the time that it’s still on, and it should be stopped. It’s not normal that it’s happening.”

Despite the players living through such a traumatic period in their daily lives, on the court this has been one of the greatest periods that Ukrainian tennis has experienced. Seven women competed in the main draw of the Australian Open this week, the highest number ever, and three players were seeded. For the first time in the history of the Australian Open, three Ukrainian women have reached the second week of the tournament.

Asked why she and her counterparts have been able to succeed on the court during such a difficult period, Kostyuk said: “I think it just shows that there is no limit in human possibilities withstanding stress and all around it. For me personally, it was very difficult, but at the same time I’ve grown a lot as a person. The oddest things that have happened, they helped me to grow this quick.”

“If there was never a war in my life, I don’t think I would be able to grow this much as I grew in the last two years. I don’t know. I think it’s about the perspective, how you take it, because there are different things that are happening. But I think if you take them as a burden or, like, ‘Oh, why is it happening to me and it’s not happening to other people,’ or if you victimise yourself, which I think it’s normal. I think every person goes through this kind of feeling from time to time… I think the more you can minimise this feeling of being a victim, I think the easier it is to get through life.”

After Kostyuk’s victory, Elina Svitolina and Dayana Yastremska will compete for a spot in the quarter-final on Monday. “Very proud of all of us, honestly, for standing for so long and not losing faith and still fighting and fighting for our rights and fighting for everyone basically,” said Kostyuk. “I don’t know. I think it just shows how strong Ukrainian people are.”

Kostyuk, who is unseeded, will next face Coco Gauff as both players compete for a spot in the semi-finals. Gauff, the fourth seed, continued to roll through the draw as she eased past Magdalena Frech 6-1, 6-2.