Tennis stars voice support for Aryna Sabalenka after her former partner’s death

Members of the tennis community are rallying around Belarusian world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka following the death of her ex-partner, former professional ice hockey player Konstantin Koltsov.

Koltsov, who played 144 games for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, died in what the Miami-Dade Police Department is calling an “apparent suicide” with no foul play suspected.

The death of the 42-year-old Koltsov, also from Belarus, occurred just days before Sabalenka is scheduled to play at the Miami Open.

“Konstantin’s death is an unthinkable tragedy, and while we were no longer together, my heart is broken,” Sabalenka said in a statement on Wednesday. “Please respect my privacy and his family’s privacy during this difficult time.”

Because of her seeding, Sabalenka has a first-round bye in the tournament. Her opponent in the second round will be her close friend, Spain’s Paula Badosa.

“She’s one of my best friends,” Badosa said to reporters on Tuesday after defeating Simona Halep. “Yesterday, I spoke with her [for] a lot of time. This morning the same. So I know what she’s going through. I know the entire situation, what is happening.

“That for me is a little bit shocking also to go through that because, at the end, she’s my best friend and I don’t want her to suffer. It’s a very tough situation. At the same point, playing against her, it’s also uncomfortable.”

Badosa plays a backhand against Halep in their Miami Open first-round match. - Brennan Asplen/Getty Images
Badosa plays a backhand against Halep in their Miami Open first-round match. - Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

Koltsov, who played three seasons in the NHL and represented Belarus at two Winter Olympics, had been working as a coach with Russian ice hockey team Salavat Yulaev.

He would travel to tennis tournaments around the world with two-time Australian Open champion Sabalenka. According to People, the pair were first linked together in June 2021.

Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki was also asked by reporters about Koltsov’s death following her victory against Clara Burel at the Miami Open.

“I can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now,” said Wozniacki. “I’m saying that. I’m also tearing up. It’s such a terrible situation. It’s so hard. I reached out to her and I told her that I was here if she needed anything.

“I love Aryna. I think she’s such a great person. She’s always so happy and out there. To see her go through that, it’s heartbreaking. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now. Everyone grieves in a different way.

“She was walking past today. I was giving her her space. I let her know that if she ever needs anything, I’m here, we’re here for her.”

Editor’s Note: If you are in the US and you or a loved one have contemplated suicide, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a trained counselor. Outside the US, a worldwide directory of resources and international hotlines is provided by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, and you can turn to Befrienders Worldwide.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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