Earlier than changing into a soldier, Stakhovsky was a professional tennis participant, and a really profitable one: He was ranked as excessive as 31 on the earth and had greater than $5 million in profession winnings. He’s finest remembered for beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013. I used to be there and watched slack-jawed as Stakhovsky, taking part in serve-and-volley tennis, a mode that had grow to be just about out of date, took out the then-seven-time champion on Centre Courtroom. Within the information convention that adopted, the Ukrainian joked, “I can undoubtedly inform my grandchildren that, yeah, I kicked the butt of Roger Federer.” He misplaced his subsequent match, however the win over Federer ensured him a everlasting place in tennis trivia. That he’s now a combatant in conflict is difficult to consider, and as I walked round Wimbledon this 12 months, I discovered myself fascinated with Stakhovsky and his journey from tennis whites to navy fatigues.
In early August, whereas he was off-duty in Kyiv, I spoke with Stakhovsky by video. He advised me that he was vacationing in Dubai together with his household when the conflict began. The town was internet hosting a males’s event that week, and he stated he was with two Russian gamers, Rublev and Karen Khachanov, the night time earlier than. Stakhovsky had simply retired from tennis and was residing in Budapest; he had not lived in Ukraine since he was 12. However together with his nation below assault, he felt obliged to affix the conflict effort. He left Dubai and arrived in Kyiv on Feb. 28, 4 days after the Russians invaded. “I didn’t have every other choice,” he stated. “I couldn’t think about sitting outdoors of Ukraine and screaming for different individuals to assist Ukraine.”
He stated he was associates with quite a few Russians when he was on the tour and had heard from a number of of them. Mikhail Youzhny, a former Prime 10 participant, texted him periodically. “Generally I reply, typically I don’t,” Stakhovsky stated. He advised me that on the French Open final 12 months, the place he was attempting to lift cash for Ukraine, he bumped into Khachanov in a hallway, and the Russian merely brushed previous him. He talked about a remark that Medvedev made at Wimbledon this 12 months, about being in favor of peace. “Everyone is in favor of peace,” Stakhovsky stated. “I’ve been in Bucha; I’ve seen the our bodies. For us, sadly, peace is one thing that we must earn with blood.” He recalled that Medvedev’s dad and mom had as soon as approached him about teaching their son early in his professional profession. (Medvedev didn’t reply to a request for remark, and Khachanov declined to remark.)
Close to the top of our dialog, we talked in regards to the match towards Federer, and I requested if he had been in contact with the Swiss star. Stakhovsky, who’s 37, stated that he had, and he started scrolling by means of his telephone. He noticed that Federer had reached out twice in March 2022, to test in on him and to precise his sorrow over the state of affairs. I introduced up the remark that Stakhovsky had made about his grandchildren and kicking Federer’s butt. He laughed ruefully. “Now I simply hope that I’ll get to see my grandkids,” he stated.
Alexandr Dolgopolov, too, is in uniform for Ukraine. He performed professionally for greater than a decade and attained a career-high rating of 13 earlier than retiring in 2021. Nowadays, he’s a drone operator near the entrance traces. He spoke to me from his condominium in Kyiv, the place he was recuperating from a concussion he suffered when a shell landed close to his trench. He was resigned to the hazard he faces in fight. “They attempt to destroy us, we attempt to destroy them, that’s the way it works,” he stated with a shrug. He was sporting a Diadora T-shirt, a reminder of his previous; Diadora is the Italian sportswear firm that sponsored him.