Even by Chennai standards, the 310 Celsius felt a lot more on Monday especially when Ukraine’s Vladyslav Orlov faced Russia’s Alibek Kachmazov in the qualifying draw of the Chennai Open ATP Challenger. The two countries are still engaged in a war, which has led to 7,155 civilian deaths in Ukraine alone and as the two faced each other – thousands of miles away – there was eerie silence that you don’t find inside the court. If that was telling, the scene at the end where Kachmazov prevailed 6-4, 7-6 had an even bigger message as the two didn’t shake hands post finishing.
Although he wasn’t at his fluent best on court, off the court Orlov spoke on what it felt to play against a Russian amidst the ongoing war back home. “If it was up to me, of course I would ban them because it’s not normal, no? I don’t have a house now. Why? I’m playing against a guy who’s actually (allegedly) sponsored by some of the companies who are supporting the war. I don’t know. That’s not fair. I cannot influence this,” Orlov said with his mother Olena Ludina, who also doubles up as coach, standing next to him.
“My job is to go and play. I think Russian and Belarussian players should be banned until their country stops invading other countries. That’s my opinion. You cannot invade other countries and kill people and destroy houses and kindergartens. My university, school, city… it’s all been destroyed,” Orlov added.
Question of survival
In a way, the 27-year-old sees tennis as his escape from all the troubles that he and his countrymen suffer from back home. Last March, just weeks into the war, Orlov said his house in Kharkiv, which is closer to the Russian border, was destroyed. “I’m now based in Germany. I was lucky that I left Ukraine one week before the war started. Otherwise, I would probably be fighting right now. It’s a disaster actually (conditions back home). The Russians have been bombing our cities, killing our people every day. Sometimes, people don’t have electricity for up to 16 hours a day and it’s pretty cold in Ukraine right now. Minus 15 to 20. So, it’s pretty cold, dark and very dangerous. It’s a question of survival,” said Orlov, whose elder brother and grandmother are still in Ukraine.
On Sunday night as it was evident that Orlov would face Russia’s Kachmazov, his mother Ludina struggled to sleep as news filtered in about the strikes in Ukraine. “Everyday we are reminded of bombing, rockets, and missiles. Hospitals, schools… It’s very tough. Just now I spoke with my mom and it is tough because of the winter. Our family now lives on the western side of Ukraine,” said Ludina who was a national table tennis champion during the USSR days.
A qualified doctor now, Ludina has been accompanying Orlov as he has been struggling to get going on the tennis court. “We try to support each other otherwise it will be problematic. When I first went with him to a tournament in Croatia (last May), he won the 25K ITF World Tour. Before, he lost, he lost, he lost. Didn’t eat, sleep or practice,” she says.
Orlov explains how it was during the initial months. “On February 24, it’s going to be one year since the war started. First three-four months, it was very tough to play. After that, it was… I just told myself to keep going. Your people are fighting there, you have to fight in the court. I have to win the match. It didn’t happen today,” Orlov said.
Even though Orlov has been on the tennis circuit, he has been doing his part to help people back home in the war-torn country. He has been co-ordinating with his countryman Sergiy Stakhovsky, who was ranked as high as World No 31, and is fighting the Russians in the war. “He’s actually there, helping Ukrainians. He has been to the frontline, bringing ammunition, food, fighting in the border area helping people. So much respect for him. When we played the Davis Cup last time, all the money we put together and sent back to Ukraine to the army. I’m doing my best to help,” Orlov said.
Even though his run ended early in Chennai, Orlov and his mother will now head to Bengaluru for the next ATP Challenger. “I have more motivation to play. The army is fighting there. I have to do the same thing here,” Orlov says before heading back.