Tension reached its tipping point at the US Open on Thursday as Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk did not do the customary handshake at the net when Belarusian Victoria Azarenka won against her 6-2 6-3 in the second round.
The two players exchanged a quick tap with the racket on Court 17 after Kostyuk whacked the ball into the net on the third match point and the three-time Flushing Meadows finalist let out an air of victory after she got the game.
“Well, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t believe that making a big deal out of it is important. I always shake hands with my opponents,” said Azarenka, who added that Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska had done the same in Washington, DC, last month.
“I cannot force anybody to shake my hand. It’s their decision. How did it make me feel? It’s not the most important thing in the world right now.”
Kostyuk has made repeated calls for the WTA to ban Russian athletes from the Tour and told the Times last month that the invasion made Russian players on the tour into “enemies in a matter of minutes,” detailing how her family huddled in Kyiv amid assaults on the capital.
Days before their second-round meeting, it was the 20-year-old Kostyuk’s objections that helped prompt Azarenka to pull out of the tournament’s “Tennis Plays for Peace Exhibition” to raise humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Azarenka said she was asked by the USTA to participate in the event and said at the time it was “a no-brainer” to accept. she said.
“I thought that this was a gesture that really shows commitment. I’m not sure why it wasn’t taken that way. I don’t want to judge that, that’s what happened,” she added.
“I can’t force it. I’m not going to go and say, ‘Oh, how dare you?’ It’s not my place. My place is to be there to offer, offer my help, and that’s it.” she said.