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Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk beats Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka at US Open

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Tapping two tennis racquets at the end of Thursday’s US Open women’s singles match was over in seconds. But for a sport where handshakes are an important post-match tradition, the exchange highlighted the tensions that have been playing out on the court since Russia started the war in Ukraine.

It came just after Belarusian Victoria Azarenka defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-3.

The women played for an hour and a half. At match point, Kostyuk’s forehand went into the net, sending Azarenka into the third round. As the crowd at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens cheered, the 33-year-old let out a shout of her celebration and raised her fists while Kostyuk raised her racket and hit the net. approached. After that, the two immediately slammed their rackets together before turning and shaking the referee’s hand.

The moment lasted less than five seconds, but the tension carried over to the post-match press conference.

“It was my choice,” said Kostyuk, who skipped the handshake, adding: She’s a great competitor and I respect her as an athlete, but that has nothing to do with who she is. ”

Kostyuk said he could not support a tennis player who did not publicly condemn the war in Ukraine. According to the United Nations, more than 5,500 civilians have been killed and more than 7 million have been displaced from their homes since Russia’s invasion in February.

Azarenka’s homeland, Belarus, was one of Russia’s strongest allies in the invasion of Ukraine. Although not directly involved in the conflict, Belarus allows Russian forces to deploy troops and equipment there. accused of doing so.

The president of Putin’s ally Belarus did not expect the war to be ‘protracted’

Following the attack, Russian and Belarusian players were expelled from the Wimbledon tennis tournament earlier this year. At the US Open, they are allowed to play, but only if their flag and country are not listed.

The war has inspired tennis players around the world to speak up. In February, Russian player Andrei Rublev scribbled “War no more” on the camera lens after winning the semi-final match in Dubai. Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s highest-ranking female player, was an outspoken critic of what she called a “full-blown nightmare.” I hope,” he said. statement Posted on Twitter.

Nevertheless, Kostyuk, one of the most vocal Ukrainian players, has called on Belarusian and Russian athletes to do more to publicly denounce their country’s leaders. rice field. In April, she was part of group It called on sports governing bodies to ask Russian and Belarusian athletes if they supported the war.

“As athletes, we live our lives in the public eye and therefore carry a huge responsibility,” the group wrote, adding, “There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal, and the time is now.” added.

Kostyuk told reporters this week that he texted Azarenka before the game saying he shouldn’t be asking for a handshake.

“I wanted to warn her that I wouldn’t shake hands, because at least personally she didn’t come to me and she didn’t give me an opinion.” raised a voice against

But Azarenka dismissed these allegations. Press conference: “I feel like I had a very clear message from the beginning. I’m here to help. I’ve done a lot. It’s not something people see.” And that’s not what I’m doing it for.I’m doing it for people in need.”

The Belarusian also told Kostyuk that she would be “always open to listen, to try to understand and to empathize.” She was due to participate, but Azarenka was eventually dismissed after Ukrainian players complained.

“I thought it was a gesture that really showed commitment,” Azarenka said. of her plans to attend the event. “I don’t know why it wasn’t received that way.”

The handshake is not required, but it is rare for a player not to participate in the ceremony, and this is considered a sign of respect. ” was expressed.

In 2013, Azarenka told USA Today that it was important for players to show “mutual respect for each other” by shaking hands. At the time, she said she never skipped a ritual.

“But that never happened to me. No! And I would never do that…to my opponent,” she said.

Nearly ten years later, war will change that.

Julian Mark contributed to this report.

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