"It was really, really hard for me, because I had never faced so much hatred in the locker room," she said Tuesday in Miami, on the sidelines of the WTA tournament, in response to a question about what she described as "tensions" between her and Ukrainian players.

"Obviously, on Instagram, there are a lot of people who hate you as soon as you lose games, but what I experienced in the dressing room, I had never been confronted with," she continued.

"We didn't fight, but we had strange conversations, not with the girls, but with their staff. Really it was a tough time, but now it's better," said the Belarusian champion, who has the right to compete on the world circuit but under a neutral banner, as well as Russian athletes.

"I had a hard time understanding that there are so many people who hate me for no reason, none. I mean, I didn't do anything," insisted the Australian Open winner.

At Indian Wells last week, Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko withdrew rather than face Sabalenka, saying she had a "panic attack", following a conversation with WTA CEO Steve Simon, who tried to justify the fact that Russians and Belarusians were not excluded from the circuit.

Sabalenka says she is getting better now: "I realized it wasn't my fault and that I didn't hurt them any harm. And I'm sure the other Russian and Belarusian athletes didn't do anything to the Ukrainians either."

"I just realized that these are all emotions and I have to ignore them, focus on myself. I can't control other people's emotions," she said.

© 2023 AFP