Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk snubs Belarusian Victoria Azarenka at U.S. Open


The tap of two tennis rackets was over in seconds at the end of the U.S. Open women’s singles match on Thursday. But for a major sport that has embraced handshakes as a post-match tradition, the exchange underscores the tensions on the pitch since Russia went to war in Ukraine.

This came after Belarus’ two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka defeated Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk 6-2, 6-3.

The women played for an hour and a half. At match point, Kostyuk’s forehand netted and sent Azarenka to the third round. The 33-year-old screamed in celebration, waving her clenched fist, while the crowd at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens cheered. Meanwhile, Kostyuk raised his racket closer to the net. The pair then quickly collided with the racket before turning around to take the referee’s hand.

The moment lasted less than five seconds, but the tension made its way into the post-match press conference.

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

Kostyuk said she could not support tennis players who did not publicly condemn the war in Ukraine. According to the United Nations, more than 5,500 civilians have been killed and more than 7 million have been forced from their homes since the Russian invasion in February.

Belarus, where Azarenka is based, has been one of Russia’s staunchest allies in the invasion of Ukraine. Belarus, while not directly involved in the conflict, has allowed Russian troops to deploy troops and equipment there. The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Belarus, and Ukraine has accused Russia of launching missiles from there.

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In response to the attack, Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon earlier this year. At the U.S. Open, they are allowed to play — but only if their flag and country are not listed.

The war prompted tennis players from around the world to speak out. Russia’s Andrei Rublev wrote “Please don’t go to war” on camera after winning the semifinals in Dubai in February. Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s highest-ranked female player, has been outspoken in her criticism of what she called “a complete nightmare.” In March, Azarenka said in a speech: “I want and want peace and end the war” statement Post to twitter.

Still, Kostyuk — one of the most outspoken Ukrainian athletes — has been challenging Belarusian and Russian athletes to do more to publicly condemn their country’s leaders.In April, she attended group The ruling group called on the sport to ask Russian and Belarusian players if they supported the war. If they did not condemn the conflict, the group demanded that athletes be banned from international competitions.

“As athletes, we live our lives in the eyes of the public and therefore carry a huge responsibility,” the group wrote, adding that “there will come a time when silence is betrayal, and now is the time.”

This week, Kostyuk told reporters that she texted Azarenka before the game, saying she shouldn’t expect a handshake.

“I really wanted to warn her that I wasn’t going to shake her hand because she never came to me, at least in person, and didn’t tell me her opinion,” Kostyuk said, adding that Azaren Card did not use her role on the Women’s Tennis Association players committee to speak out against the war.

However, Azarenka rejected these claims press conference: “I feel like I’ve had a very clear message from the beginning that I’m here to help and I’ve done a lot. Maybe not what people see. That’s not what I’m doing. The people who need it do it.”

The Belarusian also said she was “ready to listen, try to understand, sympathize” with Kostyuk. Meanwhile, she expressed confusion as to why last week’s “Tennis for Peace” exhibition and Ukrainian fundraiser had been removed. Although she was scheduled to play, Azarenka was eventually kicked after Ukrainian players complained.

“I think it’s a gesture of real commitment,” Azarenka said She plans to attend the event. “I’m not sure why it wasn’t done that way.”

While handshakes are not mandatory, players rarely fail to participate in the ceremony, which is seen as a sign of respect. Tennis magazine writer Steve Tigno once described the moment as “the emotional sticking point of any game”.

In 2013, Azarenka told USA TODAY that it was important for players to show “mutual respect” by shaking hands. At the time, she said she would never skip the ceremony.

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

Nearly 10 years later, a war will change that.

Julian Mark contributed to this report.

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