Former Ukrainian tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky leaves Hungary to join war against Russia

In 2013, Sergiy Stakhovsky walked from center court at Wimbledon having just defeated the defending champion Roger Federer in the second round, in what was the biggest moment of his career.

Fast-forward to 2022 and the recently retired Ukrainian is in a very different fight, one he never expected, but one that holds considerably more significance.

Less than two months ago, Stakhovsky’s career came to a close at Melbourne Park when he was defeated in Australian Open qualifying, but with a wife and three children, and growing business interests, life after tennis was something he was looking forward to.

This week, Stakhovsky gave his family a kiss, told his son he’d be “back soon” and drove from Budapest back to his birth country to take up arms against the Russian soldiers.

Sergiy Stakhovsky beats Roger Federer
Sergiy Stakhovsky applauds the fans after his second round victory over Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2013.(Getty Images: Ben Radford)

“I don’t know why I’m doing this to be honest,” Stakhovsky told Statewide Drive Victoria.

“I have three kids. I have a wife and a place to stay outside of the Ukraine, so I cannot really justify exactly why I have done it, but home will always be where the heart is.

Stakhovsky has no military training, but is drawing inspiration from the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people who are standing defiantly in defense of their beleaguered nation.

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“I’m not taking that decision lightly, and I guess I’m scared as everybody is, but there’s a certain level of fear where once you reach that level you can’t go any higher,” he said.

“We have everything to lose and every reason to fight. They have nothing to gain and nothing to fight for and we can see that in them.

“I look at everyone and I know they are like me and I’ll do whatever I need to do to defend my country, to defend myself, to defend the person next to me.”

Stakhovsky said it was easier being among his people and seeing their defiance rather than being trapped outside of Ukraine and monitoring the situation from afar.

“It’s a bit easier for me being here rather than being outside and reading all the news and trying to imagine and trying to understand the size of it,” he said.

“They don’t wage war with just the soldiers, they wage war with regular citizens, regular people who don’t want anything to do with the fight.”

Stakhovsky spoke about the sense of fear that is gripping the country amid the constant air raid sirens and emergency warnings.

A man in army camouflage speaks to the camera.
Sergiy Stakhovsky in his military uniform during a live cross from Ukraine.(Supplied)

“We have people who are scared, and are spending days and nights in bomb shelters. Three times last night we had to go down to a shelter after the sirens went off,” he said.

“It’s hard to understand that any day anything can happen, but the mood inside the military ranks and even civilian ranks is through the roof. Everybody’s super motivated and nobody’s trying to leave anymore.

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“I’m not sure about how long we are going to hold off though to be honest.

“All the pressure around the world from every aspect of every sector, whether it’s sports, whether it’s culture, it helps. It creates that environment where Russians start to ask themselves inside the country, do we need this, or how badly do we need this? Or how badly we want this?”

Stakhovksy’s 19-year international tennis career came to end in January in Australia, a moment that seems a lifetime ago.

“Never in my life would I expect myself to be in this position to be honest,” he said.

“I was in Australia playing my last tournament, a tournament I love the most in the world, even though I never performed my best there, I will always love Australia.”

For now though, Stakhovsky is fighting for something much bigger, and having defied the odds on that magical day back in July 2013, he will hoping his country can do the same.

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