After 2 hours and 50 minutes of play, the matchpoint of the first semifinal of the Internazionali d’Italia ended with a cross forehand (7-5 5-7 6-2 the result) Anhelina Kalinina, from Nova Kakhova’s Ukraine, raises her arm with the palm of the hand extended towards her opponent, the Russian Veronika Kudermetoka who is approaching the net to shake her hand. The message is clear: “don’t come near me, I won’t shake your hand”. On TV, the gesture is not seen, the camera cuts off immediately, but for those on the control panel, the message is clear, at least as clear as Kalinina’s words immediately afterwards: “I hope this will help my country at least a little”. In Ukraine the war is hot, atrociously hot, in tennis, where not shaking hands is a strong signal, of clear hostility, if nothing else it is the cold war. And perhaps the problem risks repeating itself in the final, given that Kalinina will meet the winner between the Russian by birth, but with a Kazakh pport, Elena Rybakina, and the Latvian Ostapenko.
After all, Kudermetova was already on the ‘political’ radar: in Madrid she took to the training pitch with a shirt bearing the brand name of a Russian sponsor, Taneft, an oil company, which has not been ‘banned’ by the European Union (at the contrary to that of a related company which also produces tires for the Russian army), but which had raised some eyebrows. Also because in order to compete at Wimbledon, Russians and Belarusians this year will have to sign a document in which they declare that they do not receive funding from sponsors linked to the Russian government and undertake not to make propaganda in favor of Putin. “It doesn’t matter what country we come from,” is Kudermetova’s curt comment. “We’re all here to play tennis.”