Marta Kostyuk: Ukrainian tennis player decides not to shake hands with Belarusian rival Victoria Azarenka at US Open



CNN

Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Belarusian rival Victoria Azarenka after the US Open match on Thursday.

Kostyuk had told Azarenka by text before the second-round match that she intended to decline the customary post-match handshake given Belarus’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, the pair touched rackets at the net late in the match, which Azarenka won 6-2, 6-3.

“It was my choice – I don’t feel like I know anyone who publicly condemned the war and the actions of their government, so I don’t think I can support it,” the 20-year-old’s statement said. – the old – the old Kostyuk told ESPN.

“Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great competitor. But it has nothing to do with her being human,” he added.

Kostyuk is one of several Ukrainian players who have called on Russian and Belarusian athletes to denounce the Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine if they want to compete in international competitions.

Kostyuk reacts during her US Open match against Azarenka.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The country was used as a launch pad for Russian troops in February and NATO officials have said the “vast majority” of Russian air operations in Ukraine are launched from Belarus, although Lukashenko has already previously said his country was “being dragged” into war.

“I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think it’s important to make a big deal out of it,” Azarenka told reporters about the handshake, adding that it also happened when she faced Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in Washington on last month

“I always shake hands with my opponents… It is what it is. I just moved on. I can’t force anyone to shake my hand. It’s your decision. How did it make me feel? It’s not the most important thing in the world right now.”

Ahead of this year’s US Open, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced that Azarenka had been withdrawn from participation in a “Tennis Plays for Peace” event to raise funds for Ukraine.

“Vika is a leading player and we appreciate her willingness to participate. Given the sensitivity towards Ukrainian players and the ongoing conflict, we believe this is the right course for us,” the USTA said in a statement.

On Thursday, Azarenka said she is “open at any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize” with the Ukrainian players.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka has reached the US Open final three times.

“I think empathy at a time like this is really important, which has been, again, my clear message at the beginning,” he continued.

“I’ll keep it up, because what’s going on in the world is very difficult right now, but we have to remember that we’re all human and we have to treat each other as such.”

It is not the first time that tennis has become intertwined in geopolitics following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russian and Belarusian players, who compete under neutral flags at the US Open, were banned from competing at Wimbledon earlier this year. The decision, however, proved divisive, and tennis’ governing bodies responded by removing qualification points from the tournament.

Azarenka, a three-time US Open finalist, will face Croatia’s Petra Martić in the third round on Saturday.

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