Dayana Yastremska said that explosions woke her from her sleep in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, as Russian troops invaded her hometown of Odessa, Ukraine.
The 21-year-old professional tennis player said last week in Lyon, France, that, though in shock, she and her teenage sister, and their parents, fled their home and took shelter in an underground parking garage while bombs continued to explode around them.
On Wednesday, not yet two weeks since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Yastremska walked out onto Stadium Court at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. It was her sixth match since leaving Ukraine, counting the five she played when she reached the final last week in Lyon.
In the first evening match at the 2022 BNP Paribas Open, Yastremska walked out onto the court draped in the Ukraine flag, and she eventually took the court wearing the blue and yellow colors of her country.
But despite having the crowd behind her, Yastremska went down a break early in the first set and couldn’t overcome the deficit in a tight, 6-4, 7-6(8), 7-5 first round loss to Caroline Garcia of France.
“It was a pretty emotional and hard match,” Yastremska said. “But I felt like I was completely empty tonight. I think I gave it everything last week in Lyon.”
Yastremska will play doubles with her sister Friday against Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu.
In Wednesday’s singles match, Yastremska saved a pair of match points in the second set to eventually win the set. She then went up a break in the third set but a series of unforced errors prevented her from finishing off Garcia.
Calling the match on Tennis Channel, former players Pam Shriver, Lindsay Davenport and Carolina Wozniacki were in awe that Yastremska was even able to play after the emotional trauma she had recently experienced.
“I don’t know how she’s doing it,” said Wozniacki, who retired in 2020.
Added Shriver, “This is unreal.”
Yastremska said last week in Lyon that playing tennis while her country is a war zone hasn’t been easy. She said she didn’t sleep for three nights while fleeing Ukraine. Yastremska and her 15-year-old sister, Ivanna, and their mother took a boat across the Black Sea and eventually made it to Romania. Their father stayed behind in Odessa.
It took them four hours to reach Danube, on the Romanian border. Before they crossed into Romania, the sisters said goodbye to their mother, who decided to stay behind.
It was by happenstance that Yastremska was in Ukraine during the invasion. She played three events in Australia before reaching the quarterfinals in Dubai. She had a one-week break between Dubai and Lyon and went home.
“It’s tough,” Yastremska said, “because what is going on now in Ukraine is really embarrassing. My parents are at home and my closest people are there. It was very, very hard to leave and even play in Lyon. You still have a lot of doubts about it. You still think a lot about it.”
After fleeing Ukraine, Yastremska played doubles with her sister in Lyon, where she received a wild card entry. Ranked 103 in the world in singles, she received another wild card at Indian Wells and brought her sister along.
Yastremska said that she’s had to play the role of mother to her sister, while also playing and dealing with the mental stress that has come from what is going on back home.
She reached the final in Lyon, before falling to Shuai Zhang of China in three sets. Garcia also had a nice run at the tournament before losing in the semifinals to Zhang.
“They’ve really had a similar last 10 days,” Shriver said of Yastremska and Garcia, “except for one big difference.”
Yastremska said last week that she cannot full concentrate on tennis with what is going on back home, but she looked poised and focused Wednesday. Still, she said she had a difficult time getting comfortable on the outside courts after a week indoors in Lyon, and never quite settled in.
“I couldn’t really adapt to playing outside to the courts,” she said. “I kind of felt from the morning a lot of pain in my legs and my back.”
She fell behind a break early and lost the first set, but responded by saving two match points before winning the second set tiebreak. Yastremska shouted and first-pumped after every big point, and punch air when she secured the set.
In the third set, Yastremska squandered several beak point opportunities before finally securing a break in the fifth game, to go up 3-2 on a Garcia double fault. The momentum seemed to momentarily shift but Yastremska didn’t capitalize on it. Garcia didn’t crumble under the pressure, and broke back Yastremska to tie the score at 4-4.
She then broke Yastremska again and held serve to calmly finish out the match.
“It was really nice to play here,” Yastremska said. “I really love this tournament. Plus, I got a wild card opportunity and I really wanted to win. But I felt like I wasn’t really prepared.”