By Jill Martin and Ben Church, CNN
(CNN) — World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka did not participate in a customary post-match press conference after her third-round win at the French Open on Friday, saying she didn’t feel safe when participating in a press conference held earlier this week.
On Wednesday, after winning in the second round of the tournament, the Belarusian had been repeatedly asked in a press conference to comment on the war in Ukraine and Belarus’ role, but she repeatedly declined to do so. This continued until the moderator halted the line of questioning.
“After my match I spoke with the media like I normally do,” Sabalenka said Friday. “I know they still expect some questions that are more about the politics and not so much about my tennis.
“For many months now I have answered these questions at tournaments and been very clear in my feelings and my thoughts.
“These questions do not bother me after my matches. I know that I have to provide answers to the media on things not related to my tennis or my matches, but on Wednesday I did not feel safe in press conference.
“I should be able to feel safe when I do interviews with the journalists after my matches. For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision.
“It hasn’t been an easy few days, and now my focus is continue to play well here in Paris.”
Instead of doing a press conference Friday, Sabalenka’s comments are from an interview released by tournament organizers at Roland Garros in Paris, according to Reuters. Normally, press conferences by players are required.
Reuters also reported that French Open organizers said that they want to “protect” Sabalenka and that whether she attends other post-match press conferences will be her decision.
CNN has reached out to the French Tennis Federation, the organizers of the French Open, for comment.
In 2021, Naomi Osaka of Japan sparked headlines and debate when she had announced she wouldn’t participate in press conferences during the French Open, citing her mental health. She later withdrew during the tournament, before her second-round match.
Sabalenka on ‘hate’
Sabalenka has already fielded some difficult questions in press conferences at Roland Garros, including from one reporter who accused her of “twisting it as if Ukrainians hate you” and “avoiding” questions asking her to condemn the war, with Belarus being used as a key staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Sabalenka said in March that she struggled to understand the “hate” she encountered in the locker room amid strained relations between some players following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“About the war situation, I said it many, many times, nobody in this world – Russian athletes, Belarusian athletes – supports the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Normal people will never support it,” she said.
Russian and Belarusian players are currently still competing on the tours as neutral athletes without their flag or country displayed.
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CNN’s Matias Grez contributed reporting.