Rublev Kasatkina Split Hamburg

Over the course of an hour, Russia’s top players Daria Kasatkina and Andrey Rublev lifted the lid on several topics that would be considered ‘taboo’ back home in a revealing documentary that is dominating social media discussion far beyond the tennis world.

And the ensuing backlash has already started to reverberate across the country’s sports and media landscape.

One of the country’s top sports presenters, Sofya Tartakova of Match TV—a national Russian sports channel owned by the state’s Gazprom-Media—was removed from her position on Wednesday, after speaking out against criticism of the players that aired on the network’s “There Is A Theme” show.

“For a whole hour on the air of a TV channel that I have been working with since its launch, they poured s**t on my players, Daria Kasatkina and Andrey Rublev,” said Tartakova, who also acts as their public relations officer. “I congratulate my home network. In one hour, the channel lost exclusive access and interviews with some of the world’s top players.

“None of the current top players will be able to communicate with Match TV anymore. Well, was it worth it?”


Tartakova has been a TV presenter with Match TV since 2015, and has also served as a press officer for the Russian Tennis Federation. Her deep connections in Russian tennis grant her an unparalleled level of access to players like Rublev, Kasatkina, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova—access which often yields in-depth and revealing documentary-style interviews.

“There have always been tennis specials on Match TV, live broadcasts with the players after the most high-profile victories,” Tartakova added. “They always met me halfway and trusted me. And my home network allowed all of this to be trampled. It hurts and saddens me that because of one program, strangers destroyed everything that I had been building since I was 17.

“Match TV, you let me down. But more importantly, Andrey and Dasha I love you very much and I’m very proud of you. You are the kindest, most open and honest people. Working with you is a real gift. I’m sorry that I couldn’t save it.”

One of these tennis specials aired earlier this week on the YouTube channel of independent sports journalist Vitya Kravchenko, and has already racked up more than 240,000 views. Filmed at their training bases in Barcelona, Kasatkina and Rublev allowed cameras extensive behind-the-scenes looks in on their practices and daily lives as top tennis pros abroad.

They also went deep in revealing conversations about “the most painful topics of our time”—using the video as a platform to discuss everything from the war in Ukraine and Russia’s homosexuality taboo, to being banned from Wimbledon and their dissatisfaction with the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF).

Rublev and Kasatkina even discussed the possibility of defecting from Russia or changing their citizenship in order to continue their tennis careers—should Russians continue to be banned from global sporting events.

“Well, speaking of Wimbledon, I probably should have changed my citizenship to get there,” Rublev said with a wry smile. “That would be acceptable for them…

“If we’d get completely banned from all tournaments, and I wanted to keep my career going, it could be one of the ways.”

It’s a move that the eventual Wimbledon women’s champion Elena Rybakina took in 2018 when she began representing Kazakhstan due to the RTF’s lack of funding. Rybakina’s citizenship was widely discussed in Russian and British press throughout the fortnight, with RTF president Shamil Tarpischev drawing ire for claiming credit for Rybakina’s victory.


But the comments that have received the most vicious backlash—including the condemnation that sparked Tartakova’s response to “There Is A Theme” and its host Anton Anisimov—were from Kasatkina, who took a courageous step when she revealed that she is currently in a relationship with a woman, Olympic figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, who now competes for Canada.

With LGBTQ+ issues another major taboo in Russia, the 25-year-old broke down in tears at the idea of not being able to return home after coming out and publicly denouncing the war in Ukraine.

In response, Biysultan Khamzaev, a deputy in the State Duma, appeared as a guest on Anisimov’s show to slam Kasatkina’s comments as “propaganda” and “a classic trick” for attention.

“We understand that Kasatkina is 26th in the world, she is the first in Russia but 26th in the world. This is far from [former world No. 1 Yevgeny] Kafelnikov,” Khamzaev said—although his count was off by quite a few, with Kasatkina currently ranked world No. 12.

“We understand that she needs contracts, advertising. And how will she get them there today? Therefore, she must betray one thing to get the second. This is such a Jewish tribe…

“We will definitely remember these statements. Not because we are vindictive—we just have a good memory.”

We will definitely remember these statements. Not because we are vindictive—we just have a good memory. State Duma deputy Biysultan Khamzaev on Kasatkina's comments


Match TV announced Tartakova’s indefinite suspension within an hour after sharing her own response on Twitter, with the network’s general producer, Alexander Taschin, saying it would “give her time to think about her statements.”

Her removal has divided Russian sports media, with Kasatkina, Zabiiako and many pundits showing support for Tartakova, and several others, including politicians and two-time Grand Slam winner Kafelnikov, applauding the network’s decision.

“Doesn't Tartakova have the right to express her opinion on this situation?” one sports commentator, Kirill Nabutov, told “Now they can also be removed for not looking at the camera patriotically enough. We live in an era of very bad black comedy.”

“Sofya, you are the best, and we love you,” Kasatkina wrote in an Instagram story. “[This is] the end, the train does not go any further…

“Match TV, I want to say a lot about you, but you already bury yourself perfectly.”