Russian Andrey Rublev continues to speak out against a war in Ukraine

Andrey Rublev wanted to express what moved him and moved in his heart. The red-haired Russian didn’t expect his simple message to go viral or that he would be seen as a hero for staging a personal protest a day after his home country’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

As is customary in some tournaments, Rublev received a marker pen to write a few words on a camera lens after his semi-final win in Dubai. Most players draw a heart or a smile or say thank you to their family. Rublev, who had received what he called “bad news” since Russia massed troops on Ukraine’s border in preparation for its Feb. 24 attack, took a riskier route.

“No war please,” he wrote.

His poignant plea resonated throughout tennis, which chided Russia but didn’t stop chiding Russian athletes. Russia and ally Belarus were banned from the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup competitions, but the International Tennis Federation and the men’s and women’s Pro Tours allowed players from those countries to compete as neutral athletes at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis to compete. Removing the national flag, which normally appears next to each name, had little effect.

Rublev made an impression in two ways: by teaming up with Ukraine’s Denys Molchanov to win the doubles title in Dubai and by writing that statement on that camera lens.

“I didn’t even think about how many people are going to see this or where it’s going to go or anything. I only wrote what I feel at that moment. That’s it,” he said on Friday after advancing to the Indian Wells semi-finals with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.

“After that, it kind of gets over 22 million views. I think I was one of the first athletes in the world to say that. In the end, yeah, all the messages I get, almost 100%, were all just positive, like ‘thank you’, stuff like that.”

Rublev, 24, is having an excellent season. His victory on Friday was his 13th in a row and he ranks seventh in the world. The boy who used to sleep with his tennis racquet grew up and developed a fierce forehand that helped him win tournaments in Marseille, France, and Dubai this year.

He didn’t lose a set here and meets Taylor Fritz of Rancho Palos Verdes for a spot in the finals on Saturday. Fritz, also 24, won 7: 6 (5), 3: 6, 6: 1 over Miomir Kecmanovic from Serbia. Rafael Nadal, 35, meets Carlos Alcaraz, 18, in the other semi-final Saturday.

Rublev, who won an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles with fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Tokyo Games last summer, is making impressive progress. But neither can he ignore what is happening in the world and Russia’s role in it.

Andrey Rublev reacts after defeating Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.

Andrey Rublev reacts after defeating Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

“Of course you can’t not watch the news,” he said. “I try not to take everything, let’s say take all the information, because you never know if it’s true or not.

“All I can say is that of course it’s terrible what’s happening. I feel really bad for everyone. I think that’s why sport has to be a role model. We must be united, we must stand outside of politics, at least set an example within sport. I think that would be good news, I don’t know, for a better world.”

Two former tennis players from Ukraine chose actions over words.

Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked 116th in the world when he shocked Roger Federer in the second round at Wimbledon in 2013 and ended Federer’s streak of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals, patrolled Kyiv’s Independence Square and got involved in humanitarian efforts .

“I’m here because I believe the future of my country – and the future of my children and the future of Europe as we know it – is in grave danger,” he told the Associated Press. “And if there’s anything I can do to change the outcome, I’ll try.”

Alexandr Dolgopolov said on social media that he undertook military training to become proficient with weapons. He also told the BBC that tennis should ban Russian players as long as Russia attacks Ukraine.

“I don’t think it’s enough to let them play by just saying a few words that they’re against the road,” Dolgopolov said. “I think every Russian is responsible for his government and his president. Just being neutral, taking the flag away from them, we know that doesn’t change anything.”

British Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston suggested this week that athletes hoping to compete at Wimbledon could be asked to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin before they are allowed to play. That would affect Daniil Medvedev of Russia, the current No. 1 man in the world, as well as Rublev and many others.

“Absolutely no one should be allowed or enabled to fly the flag of Russia,” Huddleston said. “We need a potential assurance that they are not supporters of Putin, and we are looking at what requirements we may need to try and get assurances along those lines.”

This is a slippery and dangerous slope. And lightly denouncing Putin could lead to retaliation against friends or family members of players who are still in Russia.

Rublev, like the rest of the world, had no solution.

“Like I said, I think we should set a great example that tennis should be outside of politics,” he said. “Not [only] tennis but in general sports. We are athletes. We want to compete. … I hope that they will show in sport that politics does not exist and that we will be a good example of making a big step forward.”

His plea, “No war please,” was simple. The answer is far more complicated. Russian Andrey Rublev continues to speak out against a war in Ukraine

Andrew Schnitker

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