By Shrivathsa Sridhar
PARIS (Reuters) – Aryna Sabalenka said she understood Marta Kostyuk’s decision to skip the usual post-match handshakes with Russian and Belarusian players following Moscow’s invasion of her country of Ukraine, but the player did not deserve scorn from the French Open audience.
Cheers and cheers could be heard from the thin crowd of Court Philippe Chatrier as Kostyuk left the venue following a 6-3 6-2 defeat to world number two Belarusian Sabalenka on Sunday.
Kostyuk has previously said she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus – which are a staging area for Moscow’s “special military operation” – if she feels they have not done enough to speak out against the invasion.
“I understand why they don’t shake hands with us. I can imagine if they shake hands with us, what will happen to them from the Ukrainian side. I understand that this is not personal. That’s all,” Sabalenka said.
“I don’t think she deserved to leave court like that.”
Sabalenka said she was initially confused by the audience’s reaction, which led to her bowing to them sarcastically. She later thanked them for their support.
“Yes, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Because we all know Ukrainian girls won’t shake hands with us, so it’s not a surprise to us, but probably the audience was surprised today,” said Sabalenka.
“They saw it as a lack of respect for me as a player, so that’s why she was booed. At first I thought they were booing me. I was a bit confused and was like ‘OK, what do I do? I spoke to my team, make sure I understand correctly.
“Then I understand what’s going on and thanked the audience. I regretted what I did at first.”
Sabalenka said that Russian and Belarusian athletes did not support the war.
“How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it,” added Sabalenka.
“Why do we have to shout loudly and say that? If it could affect the war in any way, if it could stop it, we would. But unfortunately it’s not in our hands.’
Kostyuk said that the section of fans who scolded her might feel differently in the future, adding that she did not expect to face a similar situation at Wimbledon, where the next Grand Slam will be held in July.
“I want people to react to it in 10 years when the war is over. I think they won’t really feel nice about what they did,” Kostyuk said.
“Wimbledon suspended them (Russian and Belarusian players) last year and when I was in the UK last year, people even on the street reacted differently to us. I felt a lot of support.”
“I’m pretty sure the reaction would be different.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris, Editing by Ed Osmond)
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