The bitterness and acrimony from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled onto the tennis courts of the U.S. Open again Thursday as Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3.
Kostyuk, who has been outspoken in her belief that players from Russia and Belarus ought to be barred from the game, refused to shake Azarenka’s hand after her defeat, opting only to tap rackets with Azarenka when it was over.
In April, Kostyuk and several other other players from Ukraine called for ruling organizations of tennis to ask players from Russia and Belarus in the event that they supported the war and to denounce it in the event that they didn’t. Within the absence of declarations against the war, Kostyuk and the opposite Ukrainian players said the players from Russia and Belarus ought to be barred from any international event.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that point is now,” the statement from the players said.
Speaking with journalists at a news conference after the match, Kostyuk explained that she had little interest in shaking hands with players who had not spoken out publicly against the brutality of the war. She also criticized players from Russia and Belarus for not reaching out to players from Ukraine, several of whom haven’t been in a position to go home since Russia invaded their country in February.
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Kostyuk texted Azarenka before the match to inform her she wouldn’t be shaking her hand after the match, however the two didn’t speak beforehand.
It was the second time in two weeks that Kostyuk went after Azarenka, who in years past made multiple appearances with President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Last week, Kostyuk pushed officials from the US Tennis Association to ban Azarenka from participating in an exhibition to profit relief efforts in Ukraine. On Thursday, she defended those actions, saying it will have been akin to having a German attend a profit for European Jews during World War II.
Azarenka had planned to take part in the profit until Kostyuk and other players from Ukraine protested.
Shortly after Kostyuk spoke Thursday, Azarenka held her own news conference and defended her actions. She said she had reached out to players from Ukraine but had sent the messages through intermediaries with the WTA Tour, which she helps run as a member of its Players’ Council.
“I’ve had a really clear message from the start, that I’m here to attempt to help, which I actually have done lots,” Azarenka said. “Perhaps not something that folks see. And that’s not what I do it for. I do it for people who find themselves in need, juniors who need clothes, other individuals who need money or other individuals who needed transportation or whatever. That’s what is vital to me, to assist people who find themselves in need.”
Azarenka said if Kostyuk desired to speak along with her, she was “open any time to listen, to try to grasp, to sympathize.” She added, “I feel that empathy within the moment like this is de facto essential.”
Tensions amongst players from the warring countries have been mounting for months.
Iga Swiatek of Poland, the world No. 1, who has held her own fund-raiser for relief efforts in Ukraine and who has condemned the invasion, said the game’s leaders missed a possibility to administer those tensions when the war first broke out.
“At once, it’s type of too late, I feel, to repair that,” Swiatek said Thursday. “At once, it’s easy to say that perhaps there was lack of leadership, but at the moment I didn’t know what to do either.”