Belarusian tennis star Aryna Sabalenka partly understands that her Ukrainian opponent Marta Kostyuk does not want to shake her hand at Roland Garros. Belarus is a Russian ally in the war against Ukraine.
Since the Russian invasion last February, Kostyuk has refused to shake hands with her opponents from Russia and Belarus. This is customary in tennis before and after the match. “We are currently at war,” she declared in March, ignoring her Russian opponent Anastasia Potapova in Miami.
A new spicy meeting for Kustyuk will follow on Sunday, because then the Belarusian Sabalenka will be her opponent. And so title favorite Sabalenka was bombarded with questions about this position from her Ukrainian opponent before the tournament.
“If I could stop the war, I would. But unfortunately that is not in my hands,” said the number two in the world on Friday at a well-attended press conference. “I partly understand it. I can imagine that she gets a lot from her homeland when she shakes hands with Russians and Belarusians.”
“But at the same time I think sport and politics should be separated. We’re just athletes. But if she hates me… Okay, I can’t help it. And if she feels good by not shaking my hand, I’m happy for her. I don’t want to waste my energy on this kind of thing.”
Russians and Belarusians welcome everywhere again
Tennis players from Russia and Belarus are ‘just’ welcome at all Grand Slam tournaments this year. Last year, Wimbledon was the only Grand Slam tournament to boycott players from the two countries. The boycott was widely criticized. Wimbledon then turned around: Russian and Belarusian tennis players are allowed to participate in London this year under the neutral flag.
Sabalenka won the Australian Open earlier this year, with which the 25-year-old tennis star finally won her first Grand Slam title. As a result, she is immediately regarded as one of the favorites for the overall victory at Roland Garros in the fragmented women’s circuit.
At her press conference, Sabalenka said her first title didn’t ease the pressure. “I thought it would get easier, but it doesn’t. I still have to show my best tennis. Everyone will want to beat me.”
The global number one Iga Swiatek is Sabalenka’s biggest competitor on paper. Swiatek won Roland Garros for the second time last year. Arantxa Rus is the only Dutch player in the women’s tournament in Paris. The number 113 in the world will meet Austrian Julia Grabher (WTA-74) in the first round.