Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine refused to shake hands with Victoria Azarenka, opting only for a racquet shot, after being beaten 6-2, 6-3 by the Belarusian in the second round of the US Open.
“It was just my choice,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has publicly condemned the war and the actions of their government, so I don’t feel like I can support that. We had a great game, 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.
It was the first time the two players had faced each other since Russia’s Belarus-backed invasion of Ukraine. Kostyuk texted Azarenka before playing because she wanted to let her know but they couldn’t talk in person.
Kostyuk has been one of the most vocal Ukrainian players since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and she has been particularly critical of her colleagues, who she says have not spoken out enough against the war. In March, Azarenka posted a statement on social media wishing an end to the war, but she and most other Russian and Belarusian players have not publicly criticized the actions of their authorities.
“With some of them I had personal relationships and they didn’t come to me and some of them have such big fanbases they have people supporting and watching them from all over the world ”, said Kostyuk.
She continued: “And in such an important subject, which is not political, it’s a very important subject that is happening in the world, having the fan base that they have, and not using it to the right way, and spread the right message: that they do not support the murders, the rapes, the ongoing genocide.
Azarenka, a former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, is the most prominent active female tennis player in Belarus or Russia, and one of her country’s greatest athletes. While Kostyuk believes Azarenka’s position on the WTA Player Council should come with greater responsibility, Azarenka says she has taken action behind the scenes. “I feel like I got a very clear message from the start that I’m here to try to help, which I’ve done a lot. Maybe [it’s] not something people see,” she said.
The match came on the heels of last Wednesday’s Ukrainian Tennis Plays for Peace fundraising exhibition match, which Azarenka was scheduled to attend. However, she was later withdrawn by the American Tennis Association after Ukrainian players objected. “I thought it was a gesture that really shows commitment,” Azarenka said. “I don’t know why it wasn’t taken that way.”
Kostyuk said: “Imagine there is World War II and there is a fundraiser for the Jewish people and a player from Germany wants to play? During the war, not 70 years after the war. I don’t think the Jews would understand.
Although she received criticism for not reaching out to Ukrainian players, Azarenka said she did so through the WTA, but the 33-year-old was told that it wasn’t. was not the right time for them to talk.
“If Marta wants to talk to me, like she texted me yesterday, I replied,” she said. “I am open at all times to listen, try to understand, sympathize. I believe that empathy at a time like this is really important, which again was my clear message.
Kostyuk also stated that she was willing to speak with Azarenka, but would not seek her out anymore after being unable to speak before their match.
“I don’t think I would want to chase her. If she wants to talk to me, I’m pretty open, but I had things to tell her before the game. I sincerely wanted to let her know that I won’t be shaking her hand, because she’s never come up to me, at least personally, and told me her opinion and what she thinks, so…it doesn’t did not happen.”
. Marta Kostyuk snub grip hand Victoria Azarenka after defeat against Belarusian Open tennis United States