Aryna Sabalenka can expect plenty of attention on her return to Wimbledon after her initial refusal at the French Open to speak about Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the Belarusian will need to block out the noise for another tilt at a Grand Slam title.

The grasscourt major will welcome back players from Russia and Belarus this year after reversing a 2022 ban on them due to Moscow's actions in Ukraine - which it describes as a "special military operation" - for which Belarus is a key staging area.

Tensions between athletes have been high since the war began and the effects have been felt on the tennis circuits where Russians and Belarusians compete as neutral athletes.

After skipping two press conferences in Paris citing mental health reasons following questions from the media about Russia's actions, Sabalenka finally said she did not support the war and distanced herself from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

"I don't want sport to be involved in politics, because I'm just a 25-year-old tennis player. If I'd like to be political I wouldn't be here," Sabalenka said following her quarter-final victory over Ukraine's Elina Svitolina.

"You have my position. You have my answer. I've answered it many times. I'm not supporting the war."

The world number two had previously said she had nothing against Ukrainian people and struggled to understand the hate she encountered in the locker room at times. Sabalenka will hope her clear stance will ease some of the pressure on her.



Away from politics and strained relations between players, the big-hitting Sabalenka's upward trajectory this year has been nothing short of spectacular and a fitting reward for improved consistency and mental toughness on the court.

After a title run in Adelaide to start the year, Sabalenka broke new ground on the biggest stage by winning her first major title at the Australian Open in late January.

Her winning streak of 13 matches ended in Dubai but she followed it up by reaching the Indian Wells final, losing to Melbourne runner-up and world number three Elena Rybakina.

Sabalenka then lifted the Madrid title after outclassing Poland's Iga Swiatek, gaining revenge for her defeat by the world number one in the Stuttgart title clash.

The trio will now take their burgeoning women's "Big Three" rivalry to the grasscourts of Wimbledon, where French Open semi-finalist Sabalenka will aim to capture a second Grand Slam and potentially the number one ranking for the first time.

Sabalenka's status as a genuine challenger at Wimbledon is barely in doubt but she is not immune to the odd blip and will need to hold her nerve to avoid a repeat of her early exit in the Berlin tune-up tournament.

"I'm super excited. I really like to play there," Sabalenka said of competing at the All England Club. "I really enjoy the atmosphere. I really missed Wimbledon last year.

"I can't wait to come back and show my best tennis." (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)