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Alexandr Dolgopolov checks in following decision to enlist in Ukrainian army
“You just live hour by hour and minute by minute,” the former Top 20 player said in an exclusive interview with Jon Wertheim.
Published Mar 23, 2022
WATCH: Alexandr Dolgopolov, in conversation with Jon Wertheim
Alexandr Dolgopolov was once lauded for having some of the best hands in the game, but even when he was at a career-high ranking of world No. 13, those racquet skills didn’t naturally translate to heavier artillery.
“Once, the husband of my sister took me shooting, and I was terrible,” he told Jon Wertheim this week. “I couldn’t put one bullet in the bottles we were shooting at. I said it’s not my thing and that I’m a peaceful person.”
Dolgopolov has since honed his marksmanship but not for reasons he’d ever dreamed: a year removed from announcing his retirement from tennis, the 33-year-old Ukrainian enlisted in the army to defend his homeland against a Russian invasion.
“I just felt I had to do it,” he explained from an undisclosed location in Kyiv, Ukraine’s embattled capital. “I couldn’t watch on TV. In the first days, I was watching something like 23 hours of news and sleeping one hour a day. I almost wasn’t eating for a few days. For the people here—obviously some left, but many are still in the country—why shouldn’t I be, as well? I’m young, sporty, and I have weight in Ukrainian society as a famous person. I can send messages, speak to the press, gather money. If I need to fight, I’ll fight, but there’s many useful things I can do here.”
A former Australian Open quarterfinalist, Dolgopolov won three ATP singles titles and partnered Xavier Malisse to defeat Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka and win the BNP Paribas Open in doubles, and admits the life a pro athlete doesn’t entirely differ from that of an armed soldier.
“You’re strong if you were on the highest level of a sport like this. You need to give up many normal-life things to be at the top, so I think any tennis player on the elite level is strong. You’re just changing the thing you do and are just concentrating on different things, on being safe, on surviving. Your mind twists and it’s like you just live hour by hour and minute by minute. It’s like the world has stopped here and it’s just fighting and surviving.”
Dolgopolov, who is getting most of his news from a vast network of Telegram channels, believes the conflict will ultimately come down to the Russian people and their own ability to stand up to an increasingly aggressive government.
“The problem is that it’s not a war between armies; you can see hundreds of videos of [the Russian military] killing people with their hands up or in cars. It’s getting to be a genocide of a whole nation. For this, you cannot say, ‘I am against war.’ All of us are against war. Of course, we’re against war. This is said everywhere in the world, every time, but once it gets to a magnitude like this, you have to take a stronger position and condemn what the government and army is doing.”
“No war” was initially a rallying cry from high-profile Russian athletes, including Andrey Rublev when he won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, but Dolgopolov would sooner see all Russians blocked from participating in sports if they continue to—however tacitly—support the Russian regime.
“Right now, every Russian is sitting at home thinking that this won’t touch them…On Russia’s national TV, they speak of invading other countries. They’re speaking of nuclear war. The information they give to their people is crazy. If the government has 70% approval with this kind of information, they should be blocked form the free world and shouldn’t be dealt with. They should feel like they’re not welcome anywhere.”
Check out Dolgopolov’s full interview with Wertheim here.