Marta Kostyuk still seemed helpless, injured and almost a little disturbed about an hour and a half after her first-round defeat at the French Open. However, this state of mind had nothing to do with her tennis game or even with the outcome of the Grand Slam first round game (3: 6, 2: 6). It was about the reaction of the predominantly French crowd at the Court Philippe Chatrier stadium in Paris when the Ukrainian wanted to leave the pitch. She was booed for failing to shake hands with her opponent, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, as expected after the match.
Kostyuk has been criticizing the Russian and Belarusian players for months and their behavior and reticence regarding the war of aggression against Ukraine. That’s why she decided to always refuse these players the obligatory handshake. At the beginning of March, after winning her first tournament on the WTA tour in Austin/Texas (“I would like to dedicate this title to Ukraine and all the people who are fighting and dying.”) Kostyuk did not shake hands with Russian opponent Varvara Gracheva. So now also with Sabalenka. Kostyuk was also not available for the obligatory joint pre-match photo with Sabalenka.
Kostyuk: “I’m trying to push it away”
However, the behavior of the audience came as a complete surprise to her. “I didn’t expect that reaction,” she said with tears in her eyes. “But I want to see how people will react in ten years, when the war is over.”
The 20-year-old explained and defended her stance. Kostyuk was visibly moved on the very day that Kiev was attacked with 54 drones and a great deal of suffering and violence had again descended on her homeland. “I didn’t look at my cell phone during the night. Only later did I see that something had happened. The war has become part of my life. I can’t describe it. I try to suppress it,” she said.
Why does she show such great rejection towards Sabalenka? You lack the clear commitment of the 25-year-old Belarusian against the Russian invasion. “I don’t understand why this is difficult for her. She could send a message. Someone like Aryna has traveled a lot, has a big team, she has so many media platforms to send a message with. I don’t respect her.” , Kostyuk said clearly: “Why isn’t she asked who should win this war?” She herself would know some players who would not answer this question with “Ukraine”.
Sabalenka: “Would end the war”
Sabalenka, meanwhile, tries to take a neutral role on this issue. “She didn’t deserve to leave the pitch like that,” the Belarusian said of her Ukrainian opponent, while also trying to show understanding. “I understand that she’s not shaking hands with us and I know that it’s not meant personally is,” she said, adding. “If I could end the war, I would.”
She tries to deal with people who are benevolent towards her and also defended her compatriots. “No one, neither Russian nor Belarusian athletes, supports the war. Of course not. That’s as certain as one plus one equals two. We would all stop it, but that’s not in our hands,” said Sabalenka.
Russian Kasatkina with a clear attitude
However, Kostyuk cannot and does not want to accept the blanket statements. “She should speak for herself,” she said. After all, there are other athletes who have expressed themselves more clearly. Kostyuk cited Daria Kasatkina as an example. The Russian recently spoke openly and very courageously about the war.
At the beginning of May, at the tournament in Madrid, Kasatkina said after the game against the Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, who also left the Russian opponent at the net after the match point without shaking hands: “The Ukrainians have reason not to shake hands with us.” And Kasatkina was apparently not completely ignored by her opponent at the time. “We waved at each other,” she revealed. “I was happy about that.”
“Kasatkina is on the side of truth, love and warmth,” said Kostyuk in Paris, once again criticizing the Russian and Belarusian competitors. “We’re only five Ukrainian players in the top 100. It would have been easy to talk to us. They’ve had 15 months.”