French Open: Kostyuk calls out crowd who booed her for snubbing Sabalenka

  • Ukrainian refuses handshake after Belarusian’s 6-3, 6-2 win
  • ‘I didn’t expect it. People should honestly be embarrassed’

The Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk believes the French Open crowd should be embarrassed after they booed her off court at Roland Garros when she refused to shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka following the Belarusian’s 6-3, 6-2 win in the first round of the French Open.

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine last year, which has been supported by Belarus, Ukrainian players have opted not to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents after their various meetings. As Kostyuk walked directly to shake the umpire’s hand, however, a significant portion of the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier immediately booed.

“What happened today, I have to say I didn’t expect it,” Kostyuk said. “I did not, but I have no reaction to it. People should be honestly embarrassed, but this is not my call. I don’t know. I feel fine.”

Sabalenka initially believed the crowd’s ire was directed at her and reacted with a sarcastic bow. But as Kostyuk departed, she was booed until she left the court. A confused Sabalenka was then urged by her team to acknowledge the crowd properly.

Kostyuk said: “I want to see people react to it in 10 years when the war is over. I think they will not feel really nice about what they did.”

Sabalenka said she did not have an issue with the absence of a handshake. “I couldn’t understand what’s going on,” the world No 2 said. “Because we all know Ukrainian girls will not shake hands with us, so it’s kind of not a surprise for us, but probably the public today was surprised. They saw it as disrespect to me as a player, so that’s why it was booing her.”

Sabalenka’s press conference included a tense exchange with a Ukrainian journalist, who implored her to be more specific with her opinions on the war. Sabalenka has received criticism for consistently arguing that she believes sport should remain out of politics, and also because she spent November and December doing some of her pre‑season training in Ufa, Russia.

In 2021, Sabalenka also attended Alexander Lukashenko’s new year address after months of mass protests and violent state suppression in Belarus. Her links to the Belarusian dictator came under further scrutiny when he referenced her results during an address to the nation about the war this year.

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

“Why do 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.”

Shortly afterwards, Kostyuk held court in a 35-minute press conference. Before the match, Sabalenka said even if Kostyuk hates her, she has no similar feelings towards the Ukrainian. Kostyuk responded by saying she does not hate Sabalenka but has no respect for her and accused her of failing to speak out about the war properly. She contrasted Sabalenka’s reticence to speak out with the Russian Daria Kasatkina, the world No 9, who has not returned to Russia since conveying her despair about the war.

Marta Kostyuk
Marta Kostyuk accused her opponent of ‘rejecting her responsibility’ to speak out on the Ukraine invasion. Photograph: Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

“There are people who never left Russia, and they say: ‘Oh, Russia should destroy US; you know, they’re the biggest enemies of ours,’ but they’ve never even been there. They don’t even know how people live there. I tell you, there is a big difference how people live in US and how people live in Russia.

“Someone like Aryna, who is travelling the world, she has a big platform of people who support her. I speak out about things and I see, like, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC. There are so many platforms that millions, billions of people in the world read. And just to reject her responsibility of having an opinion on the most important things in the world, I cannot respect it.”

Overnight, Kostyuk’s match had been preceded by Russia’s biggest drone attack of the war against her home city, Kyiv. Kostyuk, who is now based in Monte Carlo since leaving Ukraine, says she normally does not check her phone at night. This time, however, she woke up at 5am and read everything on the morning of her match against the best player in the world this year.

“I try to put my emotions aside any time I go out on court,” she said. “I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me as much on a daily basis, but yeah, I don’t know. There is not much to say really. It’s just part of my life.”


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