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 should be barred from the sport, 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 players from Ukraine called for ruling organizations of tennis to ask players from Russia and Belarus if they supported the war and to denounce it if they did not. In the absence of declarations against the war, Kostyuk and the other Ukrainian players said the players from Russia and Belarus should be barred from any international event.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal, and that time is now,” the statement from the players said.
Speaking with journalists at a news conference after the match, Kostyuk explained that she had no 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 have not been able to go home since Russia invaded their country in February.
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Kostyuk texted Azarenka before the match to tell her she would not be shaking her hand after the match, but the two did not 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 United States Tennis Association to prohibit Azarenka from participating in an exhibition to benefit relief efforts in Ukraine. On Thursday, she defended those actions, saying it would have been akin to having a German attend a benefit for European Jews during World War II.
Azarenka had planned to participate in the benefit 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 very clear message from the beginning, that I’m here to try to help, which I have done a lot,” Azarenka said. “Maybe not something that people see. And that’s not what I do it for. I do it for people who are in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who needed transportation or whatever. That’s what is important to me, to help people who are in need.”
Azarenka said if Kostyuk wanted to speak with her, she was “open any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize.” She added, “I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important.”
Tensions between 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 sport’s leaders missed an opportunity to manage those tensions when the war first broke out.
“Right now, it’s kind of too late, I think, to fix that,” Swiatek said Thursday. “Right now, it’s easy to say that maybe there was lack of leadership, but at that time I didn’t know what to do either.”