The coldest end of a US Open match came on Thursday at Court 17, where Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka defeated Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in straight sets 6-2, 6-3.
When the match ended in the second round, Kostyuk approached the net and offered her racket only to the cheering Azarenka, who proved her right with a quick tap with her own racket before the pair shook hands with the chair umpire.
It was a quick moment, but a great example of how the war in Ukraine is still felt in the sports world.
The world’s No. 65 Kostyuk has been outspoken about the war in Ukraine, in which Belarus is closely allied to Russia in an unprovoked attack on their neighbor, and a perceived silence from the Russian and Ukrainian players on the tour.
That included friction with Azarenka, who was removed from the USTA’s Peace for Ukraine event last week after Kostyuk expressed her discomfort at her participation.
Kostyuk and Azarenka explain US Open awkwardness
According to the British outlet, Kostyuk said after the match that she tried to reach Azarenka, but the former world No. 1 had already left Flushing Meadows:
“I really wanted to warn her that I’m not going to shake her hand because she never came up to me, at least not in person, and didn’t tell me her opinion, and what she thinks… it didn’t happen. So I don’t think I’ll go up to her to strike up a conversation.”
She added: “I just don’t think so [shaking her hand is] the right thing to do in the circumstances I am in now. I don’t know. It was just my choice.
“We had a great game, don’t get me wrong. She is a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete but that has nothing to do with her [as] a human.”
Born in Kiev, Kostyuk still has friends and family living in Ukraine, which is in its seventh month of efforts to push back Russian and Belarusian forces.
For its part, Azarenka told reporters after the game she had contacted the WTA to hold talks with Ukrainian athletes, but was rejected. She said she never had a close relationship with Kostyuk, but in March sent messages of support to other Ukrainian players she knew and would like to meet in person.
She also said that she has quietly offered help to those affected:
“I feel like I’ve had a very clear message from the beginning, that I’m here to try and help, which I’ve done a lot. Maybe not something people see. And that’s not what I’m doing it for. I do it for people who [are] in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who need transportation or whatever. That’s what I think is important, helping people in need.
“When Marta wants to talk to me – as she texted me yesterday, I replied – I’m always open to listen, try to understand, empathize. I believe that empathy is really important right now, what has “, again, was my clear message at the beginning. I’m staying there because what’s happening in the world is very difficult right now, but we have to remember that we are all human beings and we should treat each other like that.”
Azarenka, who called for peace shortly after the invasion of Russia?was one of many Russian and Belarusian players banned from Wimbledon in response to the war.
She also fired back at Kostyuk’s claim that she hadn’t used her vote on the WTA players’ council enough to condemn the war enough (“With all due respect, I don’t think she has any idea what I’m doing on the players’ council because she’s not there“) and expressed her confusion about why she was booted from the Peace for Ukraine event:
“L [was] called by that USTA and asked if I wanted to join. It’s a no-brainer for me. Like, why shouldn’t I participate in humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now? It’s not even a thought for me at the time.
When you ask ‘You’re not doing enough, you’re not saying enough’, I thought this was a gesture that shows real commitment. I’m not sure why it wasn’t conceived that way.
Azarenka will play against Petra Martić in the third round on Saturday.
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