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The war in Ukraine invites itself to the first day of Roland-Garros

During the very first match of the 2023 edition of Roland-Garros, the Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk went to the end of her convictions and refused on Sunday to shake hands with the Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.

Published on : 28/05/2023 – 16:14

The gesture was expected and Marta Kostyuk did not disassemble. After her defeat against Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, the Ukrainian refused on Sunday May 28 to shake hands with her opponent.

Originally from Kyiv, Kostyuk considers tennis authorities too accommodating with Russian and Belarusian players in the measures taken in response to the invasion of her country by troops from Moscow in February 2022. She is one of the most vocal voices of the circuit on this subject.

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At the last US Open, she had already chosen not to greet another Belarusian, Victoria Azarenka, preferring to touch her opponent’s racket with her own.

In January, she denounced the presence of Russian flags in the spans of the Australian Open. At the beginning of March, she dedicated her first title, the WTA 250 in Austin, to her country “and to all the people who are fighting and dying right now”. A gesture all the stronger as she had conquered it against the Russian Varvara Gracheva (6-3, 7-5).

boos back

For the first round of Roland-Garros, this time she decided not to greet Sabalenka at all, drawing boos from the public at this moment, then leaving the court. The Belarusian, world number 2, then thought at first that she was the target of the public, performing an ironic bow in front of the stands.

“Excuse me, I thought at first that the bronca was for me,” she then explained during the interview after the match, on the court. “I was a little surprised, but afterwards I felt your support. So thank you very much, it’s very important. It was a very tough game emotionally.”

“It doesn’t matter if she hates me,” Sabalenka said before the meeting when asked about it.

“If we could stop [la guerre], we would. Unfortunately, it is not in our hands. […] I understand why they don’t want to shake hands with us. If they shake hands with us, what will happen to them on the Ukrainian side? I understand that. And I know it’s not personal. And she don’t deserve to leave the court like that [avec des sifflets]“, tried to explain the Belarusian after the match.

The Ukrainian replied a few minutes later, visibly unconvinced: “I said I wouldn’t (shake his hand), and I don’t know why people thought I would change my mind. […] I believe journalists should ask these players, “Who do you want to see win the war?” If you ask that question, I’m not sure they’ll answer: ‘Ukraine’,” the Kyiv native explained after the match. “Rejecting one’s own responsibility, I can’t respect that. She says I hate her. I never said that. I just don’t respect her. And I don’t understand why people say she’s in a ‘difficult position’.”

“People should be ashamed!” Marta Kostyuk said indignantly about the boos from the public. “What happened today, I must admit that I did not expect it,” she reacted. “When I was in the UK last year, people reacted differently, even on the streets. I felt very supported,” recalled the player.

A non-match

Among the favorites of the tournament, Sabalenka dominated this meeting which exceeded the stakes of tennis.

First jostled by the 20-year-old Ukrainian, the Belarusian, victorious at the Australian Open at the start of the year, broke free after being broken (3-2), winning the next three games to complete the first run.

More offensive than her opponent, the 25-year-old took the advantage in this match thanks to the power that characterizes her.

Cornered when serving, Kostyuk, 39e world, conceded two breaks in the second set, while Sabalenka was solid, erasing two break points to finally conclude the second set 6-2, and the match in 1:11.

The Belarusian has never passed the third round of Roland-Garros in five appearances in the main draw.

With AFP

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