Marta Kostyuk rejects Victoria Azarenka’s handshake after the loss to Belarus

Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk has refused to shake Victoria Azarenka’s hand, opting only for a racket cap, after the Belarusian defeated her 6-2, 6-3 in the second round of the US Open.

“It was just my choice,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who has publicly condemned the war and the actions of their government, so I don’t think I can support that. We had a great game, don’t get me wrong. She’s a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete , but that has nothing to do with her as a human being”.

The match marked the first time the two players have met since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is backed by Belarus. Kostyuk texted Azarenka before the match as he wanted to give her a heads up, but they were unable to speak in person.

Kostyuk has been one of the most vocal Ukrainian players since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and has been particularly critical of her colleagues, who she believes have not spoken out enough against the war. In March, Azarenka posted a statement on social media calling for an end to the war, but she and most other Russian and Belarusian players have not publicly criticized the actions of their authorities.

“With some of them, I had personal relationships and they didn’t get to me and some of them have such a huge fan base, they have people who support them and care for them from all over the world,” Kostyuk said.

Marta Kostyuk has been one of the most vocal Ukrainian players since Russia began its invasion.
Marta Kostyuk has been one of the most vocal Ukrainian players since Russia began its invasion. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images

He continued: “And on such an important issue, which is not political, it’s a very important issue that’s happening in the world, to have the fan base that they have, and they’re not using it the right way, and to spread the good message: that they do not support the murders, the rapes, the genocide that is going on.”

Former No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka is the most prominent active women’s tennis player from Belarus or Russia, and one of her country’s top athletes. While Kostyuk believes Azarenka’s position on the WTA players’ council should come with greater responsibility, Azarenka says she has taken steps behind the scenes. “I feel like I’ve had a very clear message from the beginning, that I’m here to try to help, which I’ve done a lot. May be [it’s] it’s not something people see,” he said.

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    The match came on the heels of last Wednesday’s Tennis Plays for Peace Ukraine fundraising exhibition match, in which Azarenka was due to take part. However, it was later withdrawn by the United States Tennis Association after Ukrainian players objected. “I thought this was a gesture that really shows commitment,” Azarenka said. “I’m not sure why it wasn’t taken that way.”

    Kostyuk said: “Imagine there’s World War II and there’s a fundraiser for Jews and a German player wants to play? During the war, not 70 years after the war. I don’t think the Jews would understand “.

    Despite facing criticism for not reaching out to Ukrainian players, Azarenka said she has done so through the WTA, but the 33-year-old was told it was not a good time for them to talk.

    “If Marta wants to talk to me, like she sent me a message yesterday, I answered her,” he said. “I am open at any time to listen, try to understand, sympathize. I think empathy at a time like this is really important, which has been, again, my clear message.”

    Kostyuk also said she is open to talking to Azarenka, but won’t seek her out again after they couldn’t talk before the match.

    “I don’t think I’d want to pursue her. If she wants to talk to me, I’m very open, but I had my things to tell her before the game. I really wanted to warn her that I’m not going to shake her hand, because she’s never approached me, at least personally, and he didn’t tell me his opinion or what he thinks, so… it didn’t happen.”


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