Refusal to Shake Hands Riles French Open Fans

Kostyuk of Ukraine has decided to skip pleasantries with players from Russia or Belarus
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 28, 2023 10:50 AM CDT
French Open Stars Discuss Refusal to Shake Hands
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus plays a shot Sunday against Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk at the French Open at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris.   (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Unable to sleep the night before her first-round match at the French Open against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the Grand Slam tournament's No. 2 seed, Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine checked her phone at 5am. At least one person was killed when the capital of Kostyuk's country was subjected to the largest drone attack by Russia since the start of its war, launched with an invasion assisted by Belarus in February 2022, the AP reports. "I try to put my emotions aside any time I go out on court. I think I'm better than before, and I don’t think it affects me as much on a daily basis," Kostyuk said, adding, "There is not much to say, really. It's just part of my life."

That is why Kostyuk has decided she will not exchange the usual post-match pleasantries with opponents from Russia or Belarus. And that is why she avoided a handshake—avoided eye contact, even—after losing to Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 on Day 1 at Roland Garros. What surprised the 20-year-old, 39th-ranked Kostyuk on Sunday was the reaction she received from the spectators in Court Philippe Chatrier: They loudly booed and derisively whistled at her as she walked directly over to acknowledge the chair umpire instead of congratulating the winner after the lopsided result. The negative response grew louder as she gathered her belongings and walked off the court toward the locker room.

Kostyuk said she didn't expect that. "People should be, honestly, embarrassed." Kostyuk is based now in Monaco, and her mother and sister are there, too, but her father and grandfather are still in Kyiv. Initially, Sabalenka—who had approached the net as if anticipating some sort of exchange with Kostyuk—thought the noise at the event's main stadium was directed at her. She tried to ask the chair umpire what was going on. Then she realized that while she is aware Kostyuk and other Ukrainian tennis players have been declining to greet foes from Russia or Belarus after a match, the spectators might not have known—and so responded in a way Sabalenka didn't think was deserved. "They saw it as disrespect (for) me," she surmised.

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Sabalenka called the experience emotionally difficult. Playing a Ukrainian, she said, "You never know how people will—will they support you or not?" She added, "I don't like to play when people (are) so much against me." Asked about the war, Sabalenka said: "Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody." When a portion of those comments was read to Kostyuk, she responded in measured tones that she doesn't get why Sabalenka does not come out and say that "she personally doesn't support this war." Kostyuk rejected the notion that players from Russia or Belarus could be in a tough spot upon returning to those countries if they were to speak out about what is happening in Ukraine. "I don't know what other players are afraid of," Kostyuk said. "I go back to Ukraine, where I can die any second from drones or missiles or whatever it is."

(More French Open stories.)

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