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'I hope I live to reach 100': World's oldest tennis player staying put in Ukraine war zone

TENNIS By Reuters | March 8th 2022 | 2 min read
The world's oldest tennis player Ukrainian Leonid Stanislavskyi, 97, practices on court in Kharkiv, Ukraine July 7, 2021. REUTERS

Four months after 97-year-old amateur Leonid Stanislavskyi's dreams came true when he played with 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal, the Ukrainian is enduring his worst nightmare in Kharkiv as Russian forces bomb the city.

Stanislavskyi, who holds the Guinness World Record as the world's oldest tennis player, also had dreams of playing Swiss great Roger Federer but now he has only one simple wish -- survival.

"I hope I live to reach 100. I have to survive this frightening situation," he told Reuters.

"The war started on (February) 24th. From the 24th till now I have practically not gone out. I've stayed at home... I have supplies, the fridge is full. I'm sitting at home, not going anywhere," he said.

"My daughter Tanya is in Poland, she wants to take me there. But I decided to stay here. I have bad hearing so I sleep at night and don't hear anything. Last night there were bombings, in the morning there were air-raid sirens again."

Stanislavskyi survived the Second World War, when he was an engineer who helped build Soviet warplanes to fight the Nazis.

"I never thought that I would have to live through another, more frightening war where people from both sides are dying -- mothers are losing their children, wives are losing their sons and their husbands," he added.

"What is this? What good is it? In the 21st century there can't be war. The war needs to be stopped, an agreement has to be reached."

For Stanislavskyi, an end to the conflict would also mean the chance to resume playing tennis - and possibly to appear at the next seniors World Championships, in Florida next month.

He was 30 when he was introduced to the sport and used to train three times a week.

"Tennis is my life, my destiny. I've played tennis at a serious level since I was 90, I've played abroad, I've played in World Championships, I've played in the European Championships."

"I'm not afraid of anyone... I'm hoping that the war will end and I will be able to play tennis. If I could get (to Poland) I would play there. But I decided to stay at home and wait for the end of the war," he said. 

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