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Erik Gudris | @atntennis | Sunday, May 28, 2023


Ongoing Russia and Ukraine conflict continues to impact relations between Aryna Sabalenka and Marta Kostyuk, whose opening-round match ended in />
Photo credit: Getty

When the Roland Garros women's draw revealed that No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus would face Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk, controversy and tension were expected.

Both happened again as a result of both players being caught up in the ongoing Russia and Ukraine conflict.

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During the match, Sabalenka enjoyed a straightforward 6-3, 6-2 win in her opening round on Sunday.

The tension, as expected, started after the match ended when Kostyuk refused to shake hands with her opponent at the net. Kostyuk stated earlier that she refuses to shake hands with any Russian or Belarusian player if she feels they have not done enough to condemn the 15-month conflict.

Apparently unaware of Kostyuk's stance, fans in the crowd booed her as she left the court.

The situation continued when the Australian Open champion Sabalenka gave the crowd a sarcastic bow after first thinking the boos were for her.

Only after consulting with the umpire and her team later did she realize that they were not. Sabalenka later said she regretted her initial response on court.

"I understand why they are not shaking hands with us," Sabalenka said later about the issue. "I can imagine if they gonna shake hands with us, and then what's gonna happen to them from Ukrainian side.

"So I understand that. And I understand that this is not kind of like personally, you know. That's it."

She added about the crowd's reaction to Kostyuk, "I don't think she deserved to leave the court that way."

Sabalenka's press conference grew more heated when a journalist confronted her about her own stance to the conflict in the last few months and why she has not taken a more clear stand, one way or the other.

"About the war situation, I said it many, many times, nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody," Sabalenka said. "How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it.

"Why we have to go loud and say that things, this is like one plus one, it's two. Of course we don't support war. If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it's not in our hands."

Kostyuk, when asked about the crowd's booing her, responded later by saying, "I want to see people react to it in ten years when the war is over. I think they will not feel really nice about what they did."

When presented with Sabalenka's earlier comment on her views on the conflict, Kostyuk responded, "You know, she never says that she personally doesn't support this war, and I feel like journalists should, because you guys do a lot of work on lightening things and asking people their opinions on certain things, and I feel like you should change the questions that you ask these athletes because the war is already there.

"It's been 15 months since the war has begun. I feel like you should ask these players who would they want the war to win because if you ask this question, I'm not so sure these people will say that they want Ukraine to win."

Kostyuk added, "I don't know. This is something life-changing I think in the world of people because this is the biggest difference there is because if you ask me who would you want the war to win, I would say Ukraine, of course. I don't know how it will be over, but I want Ukraine to win at the end. But about them, I'm not sure. She should talk for herself I think, first of all. Then, talk about all the other athletes because I know I personally know athletes from tennis that support the war. To say nobody is a little bit. I think is a little bit strong because I think you can only speak for yourself."

The 28th-ranked Kostyuk recently visited her family in Kiev after Miami. When asked about recent conversations from Ukraine players with the WTA on taking a stronger stand on the conflict, she expressed her hopes, though doubted anything resolute would occur soon.

"We actually had a call right when I was in Kyiv. And yeah, after the call we figured out that there is nothing changed really, and everyone is just defensive, as they've been since the beginning of this whole thing. I don't know why they are so afraid of us. We sent a couple of emails, really rough ones, strong ones. We got their reply that we are working on it, we want to help you in the best way we can, and nothing changed.

"I don't know when is going to be the next call, and I just feel like we've tried all the possible things we could try. I just hope that, you know, because I don't feel like there is anything left in our power to do something with the WTA and ATP directly. I mean, it's impossible."


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