Dear #TeamSashka friends, & Dear TennisTwitter,
This tweet is VERY long, but it’s probably the most important tweet in my life.
So if you follow me in some way - please read it to the end & maybe spread the word, if you find this important.
(if you hate me, you can read & open a bottle of shampaign - for the reason).
Today, 5 Feb. 2019, is probably the worst day in my tennis career.
No, I do not have a critical injury.
No, I am not involved in any dirty activity.
No, I am not going to US college in the near future.
No, I am not tired of tennis.
The hit I’ve got is called: HUMAN MEANNESS & IGNOBILITY.
Something that all the time happens unexpectedly, ‘cause we all want to believe that most of people are good by default. But some of them are definitely not.
Let me mention a recent history of my tennis & general life - to make it clear what has happened.
...In the end of 2016 we lived in unfinished building without heating & normal drainage system. Basically we lived on a construction site. It was quite cold in winter nights, and it terribly stinked from a toilet from time to time :))). Btw, I am not trying to squeeze some tears from you - we were NOT unhappy, there were A LOT of good moments. We had only one small fireplace in the house, so sometimes we stole wooden pallets from the nearest supermarket, made a fire in fireplace, sat & talked for long hours.
Nobody then believed that I can do something in tennis. Coaches in the local club did not want to coach me - because my parents were not able to pay.
I am not blaming coaches, they need money for living as well… though it is a little bit sad: when your parents have money, you feel yourself a part of a club, of a local tennis community - of something. But when your family is got broken, those same people who told “Sashka, you are a big hope of our club, let’s practice 2 more hours a day (for 30 EUR / hour, of course)” - just ignore you, just like you are invisible.
So I just came to the club and asked everybody, a younger player, an older player, an amateur: “May I play with you? Can we have a set with you?”. That was my way of practicing that time.
We did not have money - not only for tennis, but for a living at all. I did not have a coach. A racket. A roll of strings. A pair of new tennis snickers. A box of balls.
Would you suggest then in less than 2 years I will be #708 in WTA rankings and win my first pro tournament? I’d not.
But then miracles started to happen - one by one.
First - Sara Errani. Her brother just came to us, like "Babbo Natale", and brought two bags of tennis merch - from rackets (with which I earned my first WTA points!), to snickers, to t-shirts, wristbands etc… I will always remember this, and always be thankful to Sara & Davide. Not only for the merch, but for that feeling that “I am not completely forgotten”, there are people, besides of my family, who care about me.
Then - my father. After being a successful serial entrepreneur for more than 15 years, he went bankrupt. He lost all his money & reputation in one moment. He was hit hard by this fact, he had a severe depression, and sometimes I was afraid than he can commit a suicide… Instead, one day he said: “OK, now I will be your coach”... and became the most proficient & innovative tennis coach I ever met (believe me, I met a lot of them). Have I already said that he never played pro tennis himself :)???
Tennis people in Croatia were laughing when talking about me: “Oh, that poor Ukrainian girl with a crazy dad? No chance. Forget about her” - while I spent hours after hours on a tennis court. I have been playing for almost 6 years under Croatian flag, and bring prizes & ranking points to Croatia - but I remained that “poor Ukrainian girl”.
Here you must understand what Croatian tennis community is. It looks like a classical Italian family-based MAFIA (at least how it is shown in the movies). So you basically have 2 options:
- be a part of mafia;
- pay to mafia.
What means in Croatian tennis to be a part of mafia? In 2018, I was the best Croatian U18 player by WTA, ITF Transition Tour and WTA U18 rankings. For a long time I was the only U18 girl from Croatia who had WTA points at all. But the prize for “Best Croatian Junior Player 2018” - attached with healthy financial assistance - went to a girl who made some wins on Tennis Europe (!!!) level.
She is a good girl & talented player, but… “guys you can’t be serious”, if you are 15 and older, Tennis Europe is the last place to play & be recognized as a big achievement! Oh, almost forgot… This girl is from town of Cakovec, and new Head of Croatian Tennis Association (HTS) is also from Cakovec, and HTS Executive Board member from Cakovec has the same surname as this girl :))).
What means in Croatian tennis to be a part of mafia? I have a very simple answer for you. When I win my first $15k title in Greece, I was so happy not only for me & my family, but for the whole generation of Croatian girls 2000-2001. After Lea Boskovic, born in 1999, we did not have results for our generation both on senior & junior levels, though we have several good girls in play. I remembered when Lea won her first title, it was a big article, on 3 or 4 pages, in “Tenis revija”, official Croatian Tennis Association magazine, about her and her peers. So I was so excited to buy a new “Tenis revija” - to read about my win, and our generation, and we are not “lost” but already started to win. Guess how many words they wrote about my win? Zero. Not a single word.
What means in Croatian tennis to be a part of mafia? Only mafia girls can have “wild cards” to jumpstart their professional career. Some of them have 10 WCs per year, including into $25k and even $60k. Compare it with 0 WCs I had through the whole my junior & pro career.
But if you are not a part of mafia, and do not pay to it - you will become a mafia target soon. That exactly what’s happening to me now.
Before I explain the paragraph above, I want to tell you about the third (after Sara Errani & my dad) miracle - the International Olympic Committee “Refugee Athlete Support” program.
In the middle of 2017, under my father’s coaching & his efforts to finance everything, some results started to appear. I won ITF Juniors Grade 5 in Croatia and played QF on strong Grade 2 in Florence, Italy. Our tournament travels sometimes look simultaneously funny & tragic: one time in Italy we had money enough to pay for cheapest hotel only, and we had a kind of 20 EUR for a week for food. My father took a multi-cooker from home, bought some rice, carrots and minced meat in Italian discounted store… and cooked it in the hotel room’s bathroom (anti-fire alarm was activated a couple of times :))). We ate it for the whole week!
Shortly speaking, when we decided I should try to play $15k, it was “make or break” situation. Dad worked on costruction sites, asked for support here and there, through social media, friends. At last, I reached Greece… and earned my first WTA points from the very first try, going through quali all 3 times. In both quarterfinals, I played 3 sets & lost to Reka-Luca Jani & Anna Bondar - both are excellent players.
I was happy just like I won a Grand Slam - in singles, doubles & mixed. And when I returned home, we got another good bit of news - that I was selected to participate in the International Olympic Committee “Refugee Athlete Support” program.
This program is specifically designed for high-level refugee sportspersons. I think many of us, refugee athletes, have the same integration problems:
- we are not a part of local community;
- domestic sponsors do not want to support us;
- in many cases, we are viewed only as “a source of income” for some people in sport;
- at last, some things which are very natural for a “normal” citizen - like an education access or a simple credit card - are not accessible for us.
I was a recognized refugee (granted this status together with my family in 2012).
I played a good tennis and showed some results on ITF Pro level.
I had a high motivation to work and become better - and still have.
So I believe I am the right person for this program - and deserved to be in it.
Speaking further - now, in 2019, I AM THE PRODUCT of this program “Refugee Athlete Support”. As far as I know, one of the best “outcomes” of this program in the whole world, with 1 ITF Pro title, 2 ITF Pro semifinals and being currently around #100 in ITF World Tennis Tour.
So - that was the third miracle.
For the first time in many months, I could normally practice. I was able to buy shoes, balls, garments, pay to hitting partners. I could travel to tournaments, book apartments, normally eat on tournaments. I had some money for sports nutrition and was able to pay a physiotherapist 1 time per month.
At last, I was able to do what I love & want to - play a pro tennis.
What a beautiful time.
In the end of 2018 year I was interviewed by “Jutarnji List”, a biggest daily newspaper in Croatia. It was a big, 3-pages article in which I also said some critical things about how Croatian Tennis Association function - regarding younger players support & promotion.
I told my opinion honestly & openly, through public media.
My parents tried to meet Mrs. Nikolina Babic, the Head of Croatian Tennis Association, to discuss all the problems - but she did not find 5 minutes for them during several months.
It was not about me - but about the whole generation of 16-18 years players who struggled to make a smooth junior-senior transition, who needs much more help than now.
At last, it was not about money - but mostly about things like WC distribution, hard court availability, and more participation of player`s parents & coaches in Croatian Tennis Association-financed activities.
As Mrs. Babic did not want to meet & hear us in person - we went to media to have a public discussion.
Me & my parents did not want to make any revolution in Croatian tennis. We just wanted to be sure that we are heard - as the best Croatian junior female player & the team.
Maybe, that young, energetic woman, the first female President of Croatian Tennis Association, just doesn’t know what’s happened? And if she knows, she would come and fix everything?
Remember I told you earlier that if you are not a part of mafia, you will soon become a target of it?
This is what happened next.
A. Immediately after this article published, we all became “unwished persons” in Croatian Tennis Association (HTS). All our processes - any player of a pro level has something to do with its association - were frozen from the day of the issue till now.
B. I was thrown out from all programs of HTS - completely. For instance, these days Croatian girls team U18 is in Finland, on a preparation camp. The best girl from this team has #915 ITF World Tour ranking (mine is #113). I beat another girl 6:0 on our latest sparring, and she refused to play the second set after that; and I won over the third girl in a official match, being only 2 days on court after spending more than a week in a hospital this spring! I was never invited by the coach to join the team - Am I not good enough?
C. But the most terrible thing happened today. I have to fly to Turkey to officially re-start my season (after injury in Asia) this Saturday, 9 February. It is a very important trip, as I have no points to protect this winter - so, if successful, I can jump into top-50 of ITF World Tennis Tour. This will immediately give me an opportunity to play WTA-pointing events.
I knew that all my operations in Croatian Tennis Association are frozen, so I came to Croatian Olympic Committee - just to know the following:
SOMEBODY HAS REPORTED ME AS AN UNAPPROPRIATE PERSON FOR THE PROGRAM - BECAUSE I GOT CROATIAN CITIZENSHIP (based on my sports results).
Again: it was NOT a routine check. Somebody, who is well-known with procedures and conditions of this program, who also knows to whom this report should be sent, made this “surprise” for me.
So the International Olympic Committee blocked my program to investigate the report, and nobody knows when & how it will be solved.
No tickets. No travels. No normal preparation, no normal food & sleeping even if I reach the site.
At the moment, everything is broken. The whole start of my season is definitely ruined, and I do not know whether me & my family will find enough energy & resources to overcome this and recover.
To finish this long letter, I would like to use my Twitter account to make some public appeals:
TO CROATIAN TENNIS ASSOCIATION.
What you did is disgusting & ugly. The goal of our critics in media was the very simple: to make our sport in Croatia better. To make junior players (not me, but all!) more supported & protected. Instead, you decided to make a revenge - in the most unsportsmanship way someone can even imagine. You decide to ruin my tennis career - by writing reports. You are killing one of your best junior female players - instead of supporting me.
TO THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE.
Yes, I am a Croatian citizen - and I am proud to be. But to make your final decision, I ask you to take into account three very important things:
1. I achieved good results thanks to participation in Refugee Athlete Support program by the Iinternational Olympic Committee. So THIS IS THE BEST PROOF YOUR PROGRAM WORKS! We work hard, we spent program funds efficiently, we made a plan till 2020 (the end date of the program) to play Grand Slams - and we go to that goal, step by step. We are successful somewhere in the middle of that way - so Croatia decided to grant me a citizenship as a confirmation of my success, as a integration reward for my hard work. Do you think I deserve to be thrown out of the program - only for being good enough in my sport?
2. Though I am de-jure a Croatian citizen, de-facto I am still a refugee. My father, mother and brother are all refugees. I had my 18th birthday just a month ago, I do not have a separate home, or money, or job, or savings. I rely on my parents efforts to finance my life. I DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING as a Croatian citizen. If you throw me out of the program, you take out of me the only support I have. You will make me less than a refugee, and I am already less than a citizen in Croatia.
3. This disgusting “report” is a part of bigger problem refugees face in many European countries, including Croatia. Many politicians promote an idea about lasy, criminal refugees who ate local’s bread and rape their women. I did not ate anybody’s bread (besides of my parents) and I definitely did not rape anybody. I am just doing my tennis job, day by day. I can live with the fact that mafia of Croatian Tennis Association does not accept me as a part of their family… sorry, community. But please do not let them win by kicking me out of tennis.
TO NATIONAL TENNIS ASSOCIATIONS OF THE WORLD.
I am a good player right now. I can be much better - if me & my team think about practicing, playing & developing my tennis skills, not about fighting with our own tennis association.
I can not guarantee that I will reach top-10 of WTA rank, but I will be in top-300 within two years, and what happened next… we will see.
I do not need any of Croatian Tennis Association support. But I simply can not function & develop if they are trying to ACTIVELY destroy my tennis career.
So I am officially open for offers to play for any country in the world, whose officials won’t try to destroy me.
It is very sad to make this announcement - as I love Zagreb, love Croatia. But I really do not see any other option.
TO MY FRIENDS.
If you can save my current trip to Turkey - please help. My parents have 100 EUR for the first week in hotel, and I will earn the rest of money there. The only thing I need is a ticket to reach Antalya & return home in 3 weeks. I believe that if I manage to reach those tournaments & play, my team here in Zagreb (or not in Zagreb anymore) will find a solution - so it is one-time action.
Again: I do not need a money. I need a ticket only.
Thank you all for reading this long letter to the very end :).
Your tennis player,