Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk shunned the traditional post-match handshake with Belarusian rival Victoria Azarenka following her defeat in the second round at the US Open, instead tapping rackets with her opponent.
Azarenka, a three-time finalist in New York and seeded 26th this year, overcame her 20-year-old rival in straight sets, 6-2 6-3, to move into the third round.
The backdrop to Thursday’s match had seen Azarenka pull out of a planned appearance at an aid event for Ukraine on the eve of the US Open, after what was described by organizers as a decision taken with respect to the “sensitivities” of Ukrainian players.
Kostyuk had been among those to take issue with Azarenka’s planned involvement at the event.
Belarusian star dropped over Ukrainian ‘sensitivities’
Speaking about her refusal to shake Azarenka’s hand following her defeat, Kostyuk said she had informed the Belarusian beforehand via text message that she would not make the gesture.
“I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do in the circumstances I’m in right now,” added Kostyuk, who is ranked number 65 in the world.
The Ukrainian appeared to accuse two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka of not doing enough to “condemn the war publicly” and failing to criticize her government, headed by President Alexander Lukashenko, which is seen as aiding the Russian military campaign in Ukraine.
“We had a great match, don’t get me wrong. She’s a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete but that has nothing to do with her as a human being,” said Kostyuk.
Azarenka, 33, said she would “move on” from the incident after setting up a third-round meeting with Petra Martic of Croatia, adding: “I cannot force anybody to shake my hand, it’s their decision.”
Azarenka stated that she was open to speaking to Kostyuk about the situation, having reached out to other Ukrainian players on the tour, and that she had already done “a lot” to help people in need behind the scenes.
“If Marta wants to speak with me, like she texted me yesterday, I replied. I’m open any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize,” added the Minsk-born veteran, who is a member of the WTA’s Players’ Council.
“I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important, which has, again, been my clear message in the beginning.”
Russian and Belarusian players have been cleared to play in New York under neutral status – as is the case on the ATP and WTA tours – after being barred from competing at the previous Grand Slam of the season at Wimbledon.
The Kiev-born Kostyuk was a vocal supporter of the Wimbledon decision, and has joined the likes of countrywoman Elina Svitolina in demanding that Russian and Belarusian players denounce their respective governments if they wanted to be allowed to compete on tour.
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