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Ukrainian and Belarusian tennis players refuse to shake hands at US Open

Max Sherry

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Ukrainian and Belarusian tennis players refuse to shake hands at US Open

Featured Image Credit: Twitter/ESPN

There were awkward scenes at the US Open when Ukrainian and Belarusian opponents didn't shake hands after their match.

Marta Kostyuk, who hails from Ukraine, was reluctant to shake hands following her straight sets defeat to Belarusian star Victoria Azarenka in the second round of the tournament.

Since the conflict in Ukraine began, Belarus has emerged as an ally of Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Sharing a boarder with Ukraine, reports suggest there have been a number of missile attacks into the neighbouring country coming from Belarusian troops.

So when a Ukrainian and Belarusian tennis duo met on one of the biggest sports stages of all, it looked set to be a politically-charged match-up on the surface.

But despite the tensions between their two nations, both women remained professional throughout the clash and refused to let tempers boil over.

That was until the rivals came face-to-face at the net after Azarenk sealed a 6-2, 6-3 win.

Instead of a customary hand shake between the two players, Kostyuk decided to raise her racquet and have Azarenka touch it.

The exchange, if truth be told, was rather frosty.


"I just don't think it's the right thing to do in the circumstances I'm in right now," Kostyuk said after the match.

"I don't know any single person who condemned the war publicly, and the actions of their government so I don't feel like I can support this.

"We had a great match, don't get me wrong. She's a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete, but that has nothing to do with her being a human being.

"People who didn't watch the match will probably slam me and tell me, 'She's such a bitch, thank God Vika beat her, she talks too much, and it was a fair score'. But it was honestly a super close match."

Azarenka insists she has done her best to reach out to her fellow tennis players during the conflict.

"I've offered many times through WTA, because I believe there is a sort of sensitivity. I've been told that that's not a good time," she said.

"I never had a close relationship with Marta. In March when everything happened, I have reached out to all the (Ukrainian) players that I personally know and I still have a good relationship with.

"I don't feel that forcing myself to speak to somebody who maybe doesn't want to speak to me for different reasons is the right approach. But I offered.

"I feel like I've had a very clear message from the beginning, is that I'm here to try to help, which I have done a lot. Maybe not something that people see. And that's not what I do it for.

"I do it for people who are in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who needed transportation or whatever.

"If Marta wants to speak with me - she texted me yesterday, I replied. I'm open to any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathise.

"I know she's going through a lot of difficult situations. It's not easy to handle. From my perspective, I wish she had somebody who guided her a little bit better."

But it seems there's more to this story than what first meets the eye.

Just last week, two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka was removed from an exhibition event aimed at raising money for Ukraine.

One person who spoke out against Azarenka's inclusion on the guest list was none other than Kostyuk, even threatening to pull out of the event if any Russian or Belarusian players attended.

“I did not understand the reason why they called Victoria Azarenka,” Kostyuk said.

“No one asked the Ukrainian athletes if they wanted any of these players to be present.

“Of course, no one is interested in this, it is the Independence Day of Ukraine, but what Ukrainians think is not interesting, is it?”

Topics: Australia, Tennis, US Open, Ukraine, Russia

Max Sherry
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