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At Wimbledon’s Court No. 12, it was Ukraine against Ukraine

Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko defeated Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina in a second-round match at Wimbledon. (Matthew Childs/Reuters)
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WIMBLEDON, England — When they met at the net after their three-set, 2-hour 31-minute slog in the sun, they didn’t hug or dawdle. A high and hasty handshake sufficed. The player who didn’t win hurriedly left the little side court, tennis bag on her right shoulder, water bottle in her hand, dejection in her mind.

It looked routine, but maybe the routine seemed ideal.

“Doesn’t matter from where the person comes,” said Anhelina Kalinina, the 25-year-old, 29th-seeded loser of the match. “The result is the result.”

The result was still the result, even when Ukraine played Ukraine in the second round of Wimbledon women’s singles Wednesday on Court No. 12 (of 18), one of the side courts with a few hundred seats and bleachers on only one side. For a match between players from a country savaged by invasion, the setting seemed almost preposterous in its primness, even if that’s the cherished way around here.

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Those must-have Wimbledon towels draped neatly over the players’ chairs as they walloped balls. Tubular courtside coolers held abundant water. A Rolex clock showed the time. Line judges stood in their white slacks and vertical-striped shirts, or sat in their elegant button-up Polo sweaters. Ball kids did their solemn duty.

As 33-year-old Lesia Tsurenko and Kalinina played, Tsurenko wore a blue-and-yellow ribbon. Kalinina kept a ribbon on her bag. A sole Ukraine flag sometimes draped from behind the baseline, and a novel flag bounced in the stands: half Union Jack, half Ukraine and reading “We stand with Ukraine.”

It belonged to special-needs teacher Clare Radcox, 50, and her daughter Neepha, 18, from Epsom in Surrey south of central London. They’ve been agonizing over the Russian invasion and the war, and Clare said: “I hope the players don’t think it was just lip service. We mean this. We really — we mean this.”

They said they’ve felt agony from afar and through the TV since the beginning in February. Said Neepha, “I just think it’s mad, after all we’ve seen in history, how it’s kind of — not repeating itself but how there’s leaders out there that still want so much power.”

Clare has a Wimbledon history with flags. She tried to get a flag with Andy Murray’s face on it into a Murray match in 2013, the magic year when Murray first won Wimbledon, and security told her she would either leave it or cut it, and she said, “I’m not cutting a Union Jack with Andy Murray’s face on it in half!”

This time, security didn’t intervene. The women arrived hoping to see one Ukrainian player and felt pleased to find two on one court. “It was serendipitous, wasn’t it?” Clare said. She said, “It just felt important to show support.”

They marveled at the caliber, which often did get up there. There were 11 third-set rallies of at least 14 shots, one of them 24. Tsurenko, whose Grand Slam history dates from the 2011 Australian Open, made her game airtight late and won, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, then smiled deeply, took her No. 101 ranking toward the third round and gave a second wrenching news conference here.

“If there is something that every person in this world can do, I think it’s good if they do it,” she said. “If they think that to donate 10 dollars means nothing, no, it’s not true. It means a lot. In the city, in the main city of my region, Mykolaiv region, they don’t have water for a few months already. So if you think that 10 dollars is nothing, it’s 10 bottles of water for these people. So sanctions have reason. Sportsmen got banned [from various sporting events] for a reason. Russia should be stopped. That’s my opinion.”

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She corrected a mild error from Monday, when she had said only one Belarusian player on tour had spoken to her with support. She said Wednesday one Russian player had done so also. But that’s all. “So for me, the silence [from all others] means …” she said, and she paused. “I mean, it’s not good when, I don’t know. I thought I have a lot of friends on tour, especially from Russians and Belarusians.”

She said her driver to the All England Club on Wednesday had told of taking in Ukrainian refugees and that on Court No. 12 “we felt amazing support.”

“The horrible things that are going on in Ukraine in the last week, terrorist act [on Monday], a lot of civilians dead,” she said. “And especially it’s very painful for me to see that Russian propaganda is just saying that, for example, that shopping mall in Kremenchuk was not working. That’s lie, because my fitness coach, he’s from that city. His mother-in-law — right? — she’s working in this shopping center, and she was lucky that she had a day off. Him and his father, they were not far away from that place. So they were, I think he got like some piece in his head. So when the father was — sorry, my English is not good enough. But the father fall down because of the wave.”

Kalinina, who has had an excellent season, will remain here in the doubles draw. “I don’t have any base currently,” she said. Ever since Feb. 17, she has traveled from tournament to tournament and hotel to hotel with her husband. “We are traveling with two huge, heavy bags,” she said.

“I have been at the Polish border with Ukraine,” Tsurenko said, “and I saw hundreds, thousands of people. They just don’t know where to go. They have all their life in two bags. They have kids, grandfather, grandmother maybe with them, and some, also disabled people. And they are lost. So any support that you give to Ukrainians is amazing.”

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