As the 2023 French Open gets underway, the tension between Ukrainian athletes with their Russian and Belarusian counterparts continues. This strain was on display Sunday during the first round of the tournament between second-ranked women's player Aryna Sabalenka and Marta Kostyuk.
Sabalenka, a Belarusian star who is among the favorites to win this year's tournament, easily defeated Ukrainian Kostyuk 6-3, 6-2, but it's what occurred after the match that became noteworthy.
Kostyuk refused to shake Sabalenka's hand or interact with her in any way following the match. It is a stance Kostyuk has taken with Russian and Belarusian opponents since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This time, the lack of a handshake drew loud boos from those on hand at Sunday's match.
Kostyuk explained that she does not respect Sabalenka, claiming she has not spoken out against the war.
"Someone like Aryna who is traveling the world, who has a big platform of people who support her, I mean I speak out about things. I see the New York Times, the Washington Post, like CNN, the BBC, there are so many platforms that millions and billions of people in the world read, and just to reject her responsibility of having an opinion on the most important things in the world, I cannot respect it," Kostyuk said. "She said that I hate her. I never said publicly nor privately nor to anyone that I hate Aryna Sabalenka or any of the players, I just don't respect her in this situation."
Sabalenka, in a post-match press conference, defended her position.
"I have said this many, many times, nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support this war," she said. "Nobody. How can we support the war? Why do we have to go out and be loud about things? And if it can affect the war, if we could stop it, but unfortunately it is not in our hands."
Sabalenka said she does not believe Kostyuk should have been booed.
"I understand why they (Ukranian players) are not shaking hands with us," she said.
Although Russian and Belarusian players have largely been able to participate in tour and grand slam events, they have generally played under a neutral flag. One exception was last year's Wimbledon when the All England Club banned Russian and Belarusian players, which the ATP and WTA Tours objected to. In March 2023, the All England Club said these players, including Sabalenka, would be allowed to participate in this year's Wimbledon tournament.
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