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Ukrainian Kostyuk booed at Roland-Garros after no handshake with Belarusian Sabalenka due to war

PARIS — Unable to sleep the day before her first-round match at French Open against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, seeded No. 2 in the Grand Slam tournament, Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine checked her phone at 5 a.m. on Sunday and saw disturbing news at her home in Kyiv.

At least one person was killed when the country’s capital of Kostyuk came under Russia’s biggest drone attack since its war began, launched with a Belarus-assisted invasion in February 2022.

“It’s something I can’t describe, probably. I try to put my emotions aside every time I go on the court. I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me that much on a daily basis, but yeah, it’s just – I don’t know,” Kostyuk said shaking his head. “There’s not much to say, really. It’s part of my life.

That’s why Kostyuk decided not to exchange the usual post-match banter with opponents from Russia or Belarus. And that’s why she avoided a handshake – avoided eye contact, even – after losing to Australian Open champion Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 on day one at Roland Garros. .

What surprised Kostyuk, 20 and 39th, on Sunday was the reaction she received from spectators at the Philippe Chatrier court: they booed her loudly and whistled derisively as she came forward directly to greet the chair umpire instead of congratulating the winner after the lopsided result. The negative response intensified as she gathered her things and left the field towards the locker room.

“I have to say,” Kostyuk said, “I didn’t expect that. … People should be, honestly, embarrassed.

Kostyuk is now based in Monaco, and her mother and sister are also there, but her father and grandfather are still in Kyiv. Perhaps the fans at the event’s main clay court stadium weren’t aware of the backstory and thought Kostyuk just didn’t follow the usual tennis etiquette.

Initially, Sabalenka – who approached the net as if anticipating some sort of exchange with Kostyuk – thought the noise was directed at her.

“At first I thought they were booing me,” Sabalenka said. “I was a little confused, and I was, like, ‘OK, what do I do?’

Sabalenka tried to ask the chair umpire what was going on. She also looked up at her entourage in the stands. Then she realized that although she knew that Kostyuk and other Ukrainian tennis players had refused to greet opponents from Russia or Belarus after a match, spectators might not have known it – and therefore responded in a way that Sabalenka did not think deserved.

“They saw it,” she surmised, “as a disrespect (for) me.”

Overall, while the tennis itself wasn’t particularly memorable, the whole scene, including the absence of the players’ usual pre-match photo after the draw, became the most remarkable from the first day in Paris.

The highest-ranked player to go home was No. 7 Maria Sakkari, who lost 7-6(5), 7-5 to 42nd-ranked Karolina Muchova in what wasn’t necessarily such a big upset. . Both have been major semi-finalists and Muchova has won her last four Slam matches against top-10 players, including beating Sakkari at Roland Garros last year. Also missing: Australian Open semi-finalist No. 21 Magda Linette, who lost 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, and No. °29 Zhang Shuai.

The first seeded men to retire were No. 20 Dan Evans and No. 30 Ben Shelton, an Australian Open quarter-finalist and 2022 NCAA champion from Florida making his French Open debut. 11 Karen Khachanov, a semi-finalist in the last two majors, came back after losing the first two sets to beat Constant Lestienne, a once-banned French player, 3-6, 1-6, 6- 2, 6-1, 6-3 score in front of a cheering crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen. Two-time Slam finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas also came close to being forced into a fifth set, but edged past Jiri Vesely 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(7). No. 24 Sebastian Korda, who missed three months after injuring his wrist at the Australian Open, won in straight sets in an All-American match against Mackenzie McDonald, the last player to face – and beat – Rafael Nadal. The 14-time French Open champion has been sidelined with a hip injury since that game in January.

Sabalenka called Sunday “emotionally tough” – for mundane tennis-related reasons, such as the nerves that come with any first-round match, but more specifically due to the unusual war-related circumstances.

“You play against (a) Ukrainian and you never know what will happen. You never know how people are going – will they support you or not? explained Sabalenka, who took an early break and trailed 3-2 before securing six straight games with a powerful first strike. “I was worried, like, people will be against me, and I don’t like playing when people (are) against me so much.”

A Ukrainian journalist asked Sabalenka what her message to the world is regarding the war, especially in this context: she can overtake Iga Swiatek at the top of the ranking based on the results of the next two weeks and, therefore, serves of a model.

“Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, supports the war. Person. How can we support the war? No one – normal people – will ever support him. Why do we have to speak loudly and say these things? It’s like: ‘One plus one (makes) two.’ Of course, we don’t support war,” Sabalenka said. “If it could affect the war in any way, if it could stop it, we would. But unfortunately, it is not in our hands.

When part of these comments were read to Kostyuk by a journalist, she answered in a calm and measured tone that she does not understand why Sabalenka does not come out and says that “she does not personally support this war” .

Kostyuk also dismissed the idea that players from Russia or Belarus could be in a difficult situation when they return to those countries if they were to talk about what is happening in Ukraine.

“I don’t know why it’s a difficult situation,” Kostyuk said with a laugh.

“I don’t know what the other players are afraid of,” she said. “I’m going back to Ukraine, where I can die anytime from drones or missiles or whatever.”


AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

ABC News

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