© Ella Ling

Tennis balls

Sergiy Stakhovsky's Ace The Cancer Fund

   

Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky has a reputation for being one of the most outspoken players on the ATP Tour, a firebrand leading the push for greater prize money at the grand slams and speaking up for the rights of the lower-ranked players. But behind the scenes, Stakhovsky is also fighting another fight and has set up a charity fund called Ace the Cancer, giving $5 to the National Institute of Cancer in Ukraine for every ace he hits throughout the year. Stakhovsky was kind enough to tell The Tennis Space why it matters so much.

How did you get started with Ace the Cancer?
Well, my father works in the National Institute of Cancer. He’s head of reconstructive and plastic surgery of oncology, onco-neurology, however you want to call it. So it pretty much started there, I wanted to give something back. Meanwhile, while we were starting this thing, my uncle got diagnosed with stomach cancer, it was quite late stage, they found out quite late. He was in my father’s institution, they unfortunately couldn’t help him. It was not a very nice time. That’s when it all started and I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with it.

How is it going?
I was trying to expand it but it was not easy to get tournaments or other players involved. I had huge expectations for it but then my ranking started dropping and I had a few different issues to be working on….I was still donating the money….Now again the ATP granted a huge amount, in Ukraine terms, $10,000. Now we’re facing some issues because it’s not that easy to ensure the money gets there. For me, it was much easier because I was in the Ukraine so I just put the money in the account and it was done. But when you send it out from Europe, it’s a nightmare and even if you want to donate, you’re just going to give up. It’s complicated.

So that’s how it started and then as soon as the ATP granted me a grant for that, I have some people in the Ukraine who heard about it, because it was quite big, so they also want to get involved, they wanted to donate some money so I sent them the concept of what it is and I have a person who is working now in Ukraine to really create a foundation that will be helping directly to maybe the patients who are more in need than the rest so we will see what’s going to happen.

How much time can you spend on this?
Not much. One day you can really have good thoughts and good things but you cannot really devote yourself and work for it. So I just ring up my friend in Kiev and say, look, we could have done this, this and this, think about it and when you think it can work or something just give me some feedback and we’ll see from there.

What affect does seeing people in hospital have on you?
Well, I hate hospitals. Half of my family are doctors and I really hate hospitals. I was taken in Rome to the hospital and I was going nuts. I went to the hospital and I signed the papers to release myself. I couldn’t stay there. So whenever I come into the hospital, for me I’m trying to be as casual and open as I can but it’s not really….you change your life expectations. You change demands on your life when you see people who are not so old, more young than old, with really late stages of cancer, which is not good. Then you really change your thinking, like you lost a match, or you’re 100 or 200 in the world. It doesn’t really matter, you’re still alive and you can do something with your life to go on.

You obviously need donations – what are you looking to achieve?
This money is going to buy a specific machine that they don’t have in the institution, to find out the cancer in the earlier stages. It’s like a scanner. It cannot cover all the costs but it will go towards this. Obviously in the Ukraine, let’s be realistic, the financial situation with the government donations, it’s just a disaster. But every little bit helps. In Ukraine, the running costs are not so expensive, so every little toy, every little thing can matter.

Can you get help from other players?
The perfect guy for me would be (Ivo) Karlovic, serving 1000 aces a year. I would take him right now, but then we face the thing that he doesn’t really want to give to the Ukraine, and it’s getting too complicated, having different things under one foundation. So far it’s just me. I was talking again to (Victoria) Azarenka but again, Azarenka wants to do it for somewhere else. I was thinking about (asking) tournaments because some tournaments have this, some don’t. So I said OK, let’s do my programme, I will donate myself this money, but tournaments are not so easy to talk to.

Felix Mantilla had skin cancer at the end of his career and now has a skin cancer foundation. He would like to introduce a system where players can have someone come on court to add sun cream during matches.
I didn’t know that. I am one of the guys who up to two years ago, I didn’t use sun cream at all. My skin could take it and I was taking it for granted. Then I got married and my wife is wiser than me – women than wiser than us on these kind of things – and I started to put sun cream on because it does affect your skin, especially here in Australia. The sun is brutal. So maybe it was a good point from him to try something like, like a sun cream break.

He’s struggling to get tournaments and players to listen
I never heard of it. But now I am on the board of the Players’ Council we can definitely think about it.

Is your performance on court important for your charity?
Well, I believe it’s just a matter of how many aces I serve, not a matter of how I win or not. But for me it’s important to be good. The foundation is nice to have but you have to be satisfied with yourself in the first place and unfortunately in the past one year, I cannot say I am satisfied with my results and my tennis. A tremendous amount of work had been done but sometimes you just need to wait.

You also have a personality and are outspoken – can that help?
It sometimes helps you but believe me, sometimes it doesn’t help you on court. Sometimes it’s better to just take it and go and play but when you’re trying to say no, this is not right, you’re getting messed up in the head.

What does the charity need in future?
First I need to really outline the goals of the foundation. I have people in the Ukraine who want to donate. Now I really want to find a way of basically reaching out for the people, or how I can do it directly. Because giving it to directly to the institution is a good thing, the only reason I give it to this institution is because my father works there and I know the money will not go away. Maybe I can talk to the institution and find the patients that need more surgery, which is something our government never covers. And from there we can try to generate more money again. Actually it’s a lot of work. My wife is now getting involved. Honestly, on a day to day basis, you can create and think of many things but doing it is always the hardest part.

So why didn’t you become a doctor?
I was lucky I wasn’t the oldest son in the family. If I was the oldest, I would have had to follow and I wouldn’t be playing tennis. So I’m very lucky that my older brother had to give up basketball and go to be a doctor. I am very grateful and thankful to him.

For more information about Sergiy and Ace The Cancer, go to http://acethecancer.org/ and http://www.sergiy-stakhovsky.com/en/