Aryna Sabalenka said she understood Marta Kostyuk’s decision to skip customary post-match handshakes with Russian and Belarusian players following Moscow’s invasion of her country Ukraine but the player did not deserve jeers from the French Open crowd.
Booing and jeering could be heard from the thin Court Philippe Chatrier crowd as Kostyuk left the venue after a 6-3 6-2 loss to Belarusian World No. 2 Sabalenka on Sunday.
Kostyuk has previously said she would not shake hands with tour rivals from Russia and Belarus - which is a staging ground for Moscow’s “special military operation” - if she feels they have not done enough to speak out against the invasion.
“I understand why they’re not shaking hands with us. I can imagine if they shake hands with us, what’s going to happen to them from the Ukrainian side. I understand that this isn’t personal. That’s it,” Sabalenka said.
“I think she didn’t deserve to leave the court that way.”
Sabalenka said she was initially confused by the crowd’s reaction, which led to her sarcastically bowing to them. She later thanked them for their support.
“Yeah, I couldn’t understand what’s going on. Because we all know Ukrainian girls will not shake hands with us, so it’s not a surprise for us, but probably the public today was surprised,” Sabalenka said.
“They saw it as disrespect me as a player, so that’s why there was booing her. At first I thought they were booing me. I was a little confused, and was, like ‘OK, what should I do? I spoke to my team, make sure I understand it right.
“Then I understand what’s going on and said thank you to the public. I felt sorry for what I did at first.”
Sabalenka said Russian and Belarusian athletes did not support the war.
“How can we support the war? Nobody, normal people will never support it,” Sabalenka added.
“Why do we have to go loud and say that? 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.”
Kostyuk said the section of fans who jeered her might feel differently in the future, adding she did not expect to face a similar situation at Wimbledon where the next Grand Slam will take place in July.
“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,” Kostyuk said.
“Wimbledon banned them (Russian and Belarusian players) last year and when I was in the UK last year, people were reacting to us differently even on the street. I felt a lot of support.
“I’m pretty sure the reaction would be different.”
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