Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk ignores Belarusian Victoria Azarenka at the US Open


The flick of two tennis rackets at the end of the women’s singles match at the US Open on Thursday ended in seconds. But for the sport in which the handshake is a valuable post-match tradition, the exchange highlighted the tensions that have been brewing on the field since Russia began the war in Ukraine.

It happened after two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka defeated Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk 6-2 6-3.

The women played for an hour and a half. At the match point, Kostyuk’s forehand hit the net, sending Azarenka into the third round. The 33-year-old sobbed in celebration, raising her clenched fists as the crowd cheered at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. Meanwhile, Kostyuk approached the net with her racket raised. Then the two quickly hit the racket before turning around to shake the chair referee’s hand.

The moment lasted less than five seconds, but tension continued in the post-match press conferences.

“It was just my choice,” Kostyuk said of skipping the handshake, adding, “We had a great game, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great competition, and I respect it as an athlete, but that has nothing to do with it as a human.”

Kostyuk said she could not support tennis players who did not publicly condemn the war in Ukraine, which led to this More than 5,500 civilians were killed and forced More than 7 million people from their homes since the Russian invasion in February, according to the United Nations.

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Belarus, from which Azarenka hails, was one of Russia loyal allies in its incursion against Ukraine. While it was not directly involved in the conflict, Belarus did allow Russian forces to deploy troops and equipment there. The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Belarus, and Ukraine accused Russia of this rocket launch from there.

The Belarusian president, Putin’s ally, did not expect the war to ‘prolong’

In response to the attack, the Russian and Belarusian players were forbidden from Wimbledon tennis earlier this year. In the US OpenThey are allowed to play – but only if their flags and countries are not included.

The war prompted tennis players from all over the world to speak out. In February, Russian player Andrei Rublev scribbled No war please On camera after winning the semi-final match in Dubai. Daria Kasatkina, the highest-rated Russian player, was an outspoken critic of what she called a “complete nightmare”. In March, Azarenka said “I hope and wish peace and an end to war” at A statement Posted on Twitter.

However, Kostyuk – one of Ukraine’s most vocal players – has been challenging Belarusian and Russian athletes to do more to publicly condemn their country’s leaders. In April, she was part of Collection He called on the sport’s governing organizations to ask Russian and Belarusian players if they supported the war. If they did not denounce the dispute, the group demanded that the athletes be banned from participating in international events.

“As athletes, we live a life in the public eye, and as such we bear an enormous responsibility,” the group wrote, adding that “there comes a time when silence is a betrayal, and that time has come.”

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This week, Kostyuk told reporters that she texted Azarenka before the match to say she shouldn’t expect a handshake.

“I honestly wanted to warn her that I would never shake hands with her because she never came to me, in person at least, and didn’t tell me what she thought,” Kostyuk said, adding that Azarenka had not been used by a role on the WTA Players Council to speak out against the war.

Azarenka, however, rejected these allegations in a Press Conference: “I feel like I had a very clear message from the start, that I’m here to try to help, and I’ve done a lot. It’s probably not something people see. And that’s not what I’m doing for it. I do it for people in need.”

The Belarusian also said that she would be “at any time open to listening and trying to understand and empathize” with Kostyuk. At the same time, she expressed her confusion about why she was removed from the Tennis For Peace theater fair last week and fundraising for Ukraine. Although she was going to participate, Azarenka was in the end preamble After Ukrainian players complained.

“I thought this was a gesture that really showed commitment,” Azarenka said. of her plans to participate in the event. “I’m not sure why it wasn’t taken that way.”

While a handshake is not mandatory, it is rare for players not to participate in the ritual, which is seen as a sign of respect. Tennis magazine writer Steve Tenyor once described the moment as ” emotional core of any match.

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In 2013, Azarenka said USA Today It was important for the players to show “this mutual respect for one another” by shaking hands. At the time, she said she would not give up on the ritual.

“But that’s never happened to me. Oh no no! And I would never do that…to my opponent,” she said.

Nearly 10 years later, the war was going to change that.

Julian Mark contributed to this report.

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