Win or lose, Victoria Azarenka knew there would be no handshake offered by Ukrainian rival Elina Svitolina at the end of Sunday’s Wimbledon contest that had been billed as the ‘battle of the mums’.
What the Belarusian did not expect was to be booed off court after she had played her part in entertaining the Court One crowd for close to three hours in an exhilarating contest that needed a third-set match tiebreak to decide the winner.
A puzzled Azarenka was left bemused and shaking her head as she struggled to understand why the crowd had suddenly turned hostile on her.
After stopping in her tracks to face the jeering fans, she banged both fists together above her head and departed the arena with the boos still ringing around her ears.
Calling the reaction “unfair”, Azarenka did not want to make a big deal of it, realising that perhaps the crowd were not aware as to why she did not offer to shake hands with Svitolina at the end of the fourth round match.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow using Belarus as a staging ground for what it calls a “special military operation”, Svitolina has stuck to her stance of not shaking hands with players from both countries.
Asked in a press conference if she felt that she was being victimised by the crowd, Azarenka snapped: “Victim? Victim that somebody didn’t shake my hand? Please. I think we’ve got bigger...
“I can’t control the crowd. I’m not sure that a lot of people were understanding what’s happening, so... It’s probably been a lot of Pimm’s throughout the day.”
No matter how harshly she felt done by the crowd, she refused to blame Svitolina for her predicament.
“I know Elina for a very long time. I’ve always had a good relationship with her. And the circumstances, it is what it is, and that’s it,” said Azarenka, who turned up for her press conference hiding her eyes behind a pair of dark sunglasses.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, but keep getting different treatment sometimes.
“She doesn’t want to shake hands with Russian, Belarusian people. I respected her decision. What should I have done? Stayed and waited?
“There’s no thing that I could do that would have been right, so I just did what I thought was respectful towards her decision. But this conversation about shaking hands is not a life-changing conversation.”
While it seemed everyone was only focussing on the events that unfolded after Svitolina had sealed her place in the last eight with an ace, Azarenka felt the on-court duel deserved more plaudits.
“I thought it was a great tennis match. If people are going to be focusing only on handshakes or crowd, quite drunk crowd, booing in the end, that’s a shame,” she said.
Svitolina thought such situations could be avoided if tournament organisers issued a statement to fans to make clear that “there will be no handshake between Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian players.”
“Some people do not really know what is happening. So I think this is the right way to do,” the Ukrainian said.
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