Marta Kostyuk declined the gesture after her match with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus
Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk shunned the traditional post-match handshake with Belarusian rival Aryna Sabalenka following her first-round defeat at the French Open on Sunday, triggering loud jeers and whistles from the crowd.
The reigning Australian Open champion, Sabalenka, overcame her 20-year-old rival Kostyuk in straight sets, 6-3 6-2, to move into the second round. The 39th-ranked Ukrainian tennis player avoided any eye contact with her Belarusian opponent, as she walked directly towards the chair umpire after the defeat. She then gathered her belongings and left the court – ignoring growing booes and whistles from the crowd.
This is not the first time Kostyuk shuns a handshake with a Belarusian rival, and said she was surprised by the reaction from the spectators in Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros.
“I have to say… I didn’t expect it… People should be, honestly, embarrassed,” Kostyuk told reporters after the match, justifying her decision not to exchange any pleasantries with Russian and Belarusian athletes amid the ongoing conflict in home country.
Sabalenka was also confused by the crowd’s reaction, and initially thought it was directed at her. “At first, I thought they were booing me,” she said. “You’re playing against a Ukrainian and you never know… how people will – will they support you or not?”
The Belarusian athlete said she “understands” her opponent and does not take it as a personal insult, adding that Kostyuk did “not deserve to leave the court that way.”
“I understand why they are not shaking hands with us. I can imagine if they’re gonna shake hands with us, and then what’s gonna happen to them from Ukrainian side?” said Sabalenka.
“If she hates me, OK. I can’t do anything about that,” she added.
Russian and Belarusian players were cleared to play in the Grand Slam tournaments under neutral status, after being barred from Wimbledon last season following the onset of the conflict in Ukraine. The Kiev-born Kostyuk was a vocal supporter of the initial ban, and has joined the likes of countrywoman Elina Svitolina in demanding that players from Russia and Belarus denounce their respective governments if they wanted to be allowed to compete.
But even though Sabalenka stated on Sunday that “nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, supports the war” – Kostyuk said she “does not respect” the opponent’s position and urged her to “personally” come forward to denounce Moscow and Minsk.