Just days after Ukrainian tennis player Dayana Yastremska was forced to flee her hometown after being awoken by the sound of bombs, she found herself in the final of the Lyon Open in France on Sunday.
“I woke up because of the bombs,” said Yastremska. “On the 24th, late at night, my father made the decision that next morning, early, me, my sister, my mother, we’re gonna leave by car to Romania.”
The 21-year-old athlete had no choice but to escape her home country to continue pursuing her dream of capturing her fourth career singles title.
“I was so emotional because you can see your parents on the other side of the river,” said Yastremska. “You go to the safe place and your parents are staying there (in Ukraine).”
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Despite initially wanting to stay, in hopes peace would ensue in Ukraine, the tenacious athlete took her sister and separated from her family. Their father expressed the urgency of his daughters needing to follow their dreams, build a future and take care of one another.
“It’s very painful,” added Yastremska. “I will never ever in my life wish for someone to feel how it is to say bye to your family in the war.”
It was an unspeakable challenge to even consider setting her sights on winning the French tournament whilst her parents and entire home country are in a state of suffering. Nonetheless, Yastremska gathered all of the pain and sadness and turned it into quite the driving force.
“It’s been a really tough week for me,” said Yastremska. “All this week I’ve been fighting here, of course, not just for myself but for my country.”
She entered the French tournament as a wild card competitor at the same time that the Ukraine invasion was stirring. Despite the close-to-home hardship occurring simultaneously with the competition, Yastremska defeated Belgium's Ana Bogdan, Spain’s Cristina Bucsa and Italy’s Jasmine Paolini. She went on to defeat Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 6-4 in the semis and earned her place in the finals against China’s Zhang Shuai.
After her four-match win streak in the first leg of the tournament, she fell to Shuai 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in the final.
Yastremska might have fallen short of the title, but the Ukrainian athlete still plans to pay it forward to the people and country she adores.
“The prize money that I own here, I’m going to give to the Ukrainian Foundation,” said Yastremska. “If Ukrainian people are watching me, I want to say you guys are so strong. You have an amazing spirit and I tried to fight for Ukraine and I want to say thanks to every single person from Ukraine for standing by Ukraine.”
Yastremska is entered to compete in qualifying at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. starting March 9.