Fans at DC Open warned that Ukraine’s Svitolina, Belarus’ Azarenka won’t shake hands | CBC Sports


Spectators at the DC Open were told before Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina defeated Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (2), 6-4 on Monday night that the players would not shake hands when their first-round match ended.

During the war in Ukraine, Svitolina — like several other players from her country — has declined to participate in the usual meeting at the net with opponents from Russia or Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine with the help of Belarus in February 2022 and fighting continues.

When Svitolina wrapped up her victory Monday, both she and Azarenka walked straight toward the sideline to acknowledge the chair umpire. Folks in the stands applauded; a few waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags.

At other recent tournaments, some fans — seemingly unaware of the background — booed Ukrainian players for not participating in the customary handshake. After losing to Svitolina at Wimbledon, it was Azarenka who was jeered loudly for not going up to the net herself — even though she did so because she knew Svitolina would not want to shake hands.

Svitolina, who made it to the Wimbledon semifinals just three months after returning from maternity leave, said at the time that she thought it would make sense for tournaments to start informing fans about the situation; the All England Club said it would not do that.

But Svitolina said she was assured by WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that there would be a message delivered to the crowd in Washington before her match against Azarenka — and there was.

“It’s the right thing,” Svitolina said. “I asked for the WTA to respect the decision of Ukrainians. And they did.”

The scoreboards read: “At the conclusion of the match, there will be no handshake between the players. We appreciate your respect for both athletes during and following the match, and for your understanding during these difficult circumstances.”

The message was shown after the first set, too.

“I don’t care. I mean, how long are we going to talk about that, really? Is that a big story? Is this interesting for people to keep writing the same thing over and over again?” said Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1-ranked player.

Azarenka added that she thought that sort of explanation for fans arrived “about — how many? — 18 months too late.”

The WTA has not yet decided whether to tell all tournaments to post a similar message before any match involving a player from Ukraine against one from Russia or Belarus.


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