Kostyuk, Sakkari and Nadal pose for selfie at the Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, at the Australian Open

Photo : Australian Open

Over the past year, there were a myriad of fundraising events and activities for Ukraine.  

And for good reason. 

February 24, 2023, is the sad anniversary of the Russian invasion that sparked the horrific conflict. 

In Melbourne on January 11, a month and a half before the one-year mark, the WTA and ATP hosted the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, bringing the tennis community and fans together to support the humanitarian relief efforts through UNICEF Australia and Global Giving. 

Maria Sakkari, Rafael Nadal, Alex de Minaur, Alexander Zverev and Frances Tiafoe all hit the courts for the cause, and they were joined by two very special guests.  

At the Clash of the Centurions, 98-year-old Leonid Stanislavskyi of Ukraine took on 99-year-old Henry Young (!) of Australia. 

Photo : The Advertiser 

While Young is perhaps lesser known on the 90+ circuit, Stanislavskyi made his fair share of headlines, including one in this blog, when he went head-to-head against Rafael Nadal in Mallorca in November 2021.

Photo : Instagram 

Earlier this month, as the world’s tennis stars began to descend on Melbourne for the season-opening Slam, Jannik Sinner had a great time hitting with Henry Young.

The battle of the centenarians may not be the highlight of the event, but it is a shining example for anyone who feels too old or too out of shape to play.  

And it confirms that tennis is, indeed, a sport for life.

Stakhovsky and Dolgopolov: brothers in arms 

Photos montages : Firstsportz.com et LeParisien.com 

Tennis players spend their entire careers battling for wins. And, as in most sports, military lingo is often used to add a little extra drama to match recaps: weapons, explosive forehands, trench warfare, sneak attacks, etc.  

Figures of speech that say it all. 

But in 2022, they took on an entirely new meaning for two retired pros from Ukraine, Alexandr Dolgopolov, 34, and Sergiy Stakhovsky, 37, who enlisted to defend their motherland. 

Photos : Twitter – @TheDolgo et @Stako_tennis 

It’s been almost a year since the Russian invasion that threw Ukraine into a state of chaos and horror.  

In his 15 years in the ATP, Dolgopolov earned $7 million. Stakhovsky collected $5.5 million in his 19 years on the tour.  

Both competed on the world stage, in a sport that garners significant media attention, and could have easily kept making a good living, free from want and, more importantly, free from bombings.  

They’ve received high praise for their decision. And their tennis fame means their voices are more likely to be relayed than those of their fellow Ukrainians on the frontlines. 

Their words are devastating and jarringly harsh

“Seeing bodies doesn’t matter to us anymore. Force of habit, let’s say,” Stakhovsky told L’Équipe. 

Photo : Getty 

“Unfortunately, humans can adapt to anything. So, we adapted to the bombings. We adapted to fear. And we adapted to death,” he added from the Donbas city of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, where the streets are strewn with debris and dead bodies. 

Alexandr Dolgopolov is a drone operator in a military intelligence unit. He’s charged with reporting imminent danger: “I collect information. I give targets to our artillery,” he explained.  

Montage : Daily Mail 

Echoing his compatriot, Dolgopolov has also been forced to numb his emotions: “At the beginning, it was very difficult, but you try to pull yourself together and stay strong. If it worries you for too long, you’ll end up in an asylum.”  

Gone is the time the Ukrainian tennis heroes were advancing in tournaments and rising in the rankings. And gone is the time they found themselves on either side of the net.   

That was back on September 28, 2017, in Shenzhen, China. Dolgopolov won 7-6(5), 6-4. Look at their 2010–2017 head-to-head, and you’ll see that Dolgo is 4–1.  

Source : ATP 

Stakhovsky played his last match almost exactly a year ago, on January 10, 2022, in Melbourne: a loss to J.J. Wolf of the US in AO qualifying that sent him straight into retirement.  

In 2013, he achieved his greatest feat—the biggest upset in men’s tennis history at Wimbledon—when he dismantled Roger Federer in the second round.  

Dolgopolov hasn’t competed since May 2018, when he was sent packing from Rome by Novak Djokovic. A wrist injury kept him out of the game, and he officially retired on May 1, 2021.  

Skilled and spectacular, Dolgo had all the shots and never, ever, gave up. Here’s a fitting tribute by TennisTV.  

So, it came as no surprise when he decided to join the Ukrainian resistance.  

Both Alexandr and Sergiy have always been ready to take on the enemy and weren’t about to abandon their people.

Venus everlasting 

Photo : Photosport 

There aren’t many women like her still playing professional tennis. There aren’t many men either. 

Actually, there aren’t any. 

At 42 years old, Venus Williams kicked off 2023—her 30th season in the WTA—by adding an 816th victory to her amazing record. She defeated 21-year-old Katie Volynets of the US (7-6 (4), 6-2) in the first round of the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.  

It’s been exactly 28 years and 10 months since her earliest win on October 31, 1994. In her first match ever, then 14-year-old Venus prevailed at the Bank of the West Classic in Oakland, California. 

Oakland … Auckland.  

You can’t make that up. 

The similar spelling and pronunciation are a coincidence, of course, but it’s still an amusing parallel.  

In her Oakland debut, Williams defeated then No.59 Shaun Stafford in two sets (6-3, 6-4). The young teen was so charged up that she didn’t even sit on the changeovers.  

In October 2021, Joel Drucker revisited the match in this piece for Tennis.com

Fast-forward to February 25, 2002, when Venus Williams was crowned World No.1. That year, she spent a total of 11 weeks at the top but never managed to reclaim the throne—probably because of how talented her younger sister happens to be. 

Though she’s been overshadowed by Serena and her epic achievements, Venus has built a career that’s been the envy of hundreds of players for decades.  

Photo : AP

1) Grand Slams
16 singles finals(7-9) 
14 doubles finals(14-0)
3 mixed doubles finals(2-1)
2) Olympics
1 singles finals (1-0)
3 doubles finals(3-0) 
1 mixed doubles finals(0-1) 
3) WTA 
83 singles finals(49-34)
22 doubles finals(22-0)

Will 2023 be the year she follows in Serena and Roger’s footsteps and lets the curtain fall? Perhaps.

Photo : Getty 

In her second-round match in Auckland—a drawn-out three-setter she lost to No.84 Lin Zhu of China—Venus suffered an ankle and knee injury that forced her to renounce her AO wildcard.   

Though she currently sits at No.658, her resilience and deep love of the game are extraordinary. While so many of her peers have moved on, Venus lives for every match. 

After Auckland, the 42-year-old had amassed a total of $42 million in prize money.  

You can’t make that up either.   

The shot that made the cut 

Image : Twitter / @AustralianOpen 

Dane Sweeny.  

You’ve probably never heard of him. 

The current No.240 was among the 15 Aussies in the qualifying singles competition in Melbourne.  

In the opening round, he sent No.152 Vit Kopriva back to Czechia (6-2. 6-1). 

But more importantly, Sweeny showed just how much talent relative unknowns can demonstrate at any given moment. He stayed solid in the rallies and capitalized on his quick reflexes and dexterity—just like a lot of players in the Top 200, Top 300 and beyond.  

And that haircut!  

Here’s the shot that made the cut

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com 

Twitter: @paul6rivard 

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