PARIS – Can’t sleep the night before the 1st round match at French Open against Aryna Sabalenka Belarus, seed No. 2 at the Grand Slam tournament, Marta Kostyuk Ukraine checked her phone at 5 am on Sunday and saw disturbing news from home in Kiev.
At least one person was killed as the country’s capital, Kostiuka, was subjected to its largest drone attack by Russia from the beginning of its warinitiated by the Belarusian-backed invasion in February 2022.
“I probably can’t describe it. I try to put my emotions aside every time I step on the court. I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me that much on a daily basis, but yeah, I just – I don’t know,” said Kostiuk, shaking her head. “There really isn’t much to say. It’s just part of my life.”
Therefore, Kostyuk decided not to exchange typical post-match pleasantries with opponents from Russia or Belarus. And that’s why she avoided shaking hands – even avoiding eye contact – after losing to Australian Open champion Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 on day one of Roland Garros.
What surprised the 20-year-old, ranked 39-ranked Kostyuk on Sunday was the reaction she received from the spectators at the Philippe Chatrier court: They booed loudly and derisively whistled at her when she went directly to the referee instead of congratulating the referee. winner after the curve of the score. The negative response grew louder as she gathered her things and walked off the court towards the locker room.
“I must say,” said Kostyuk, “I did not expect this. … Frankly, people should be ashamed.”
Kostyuk now lives in Monaco, her mother and sister are also there, but her father and grandfather are still in Kiev. Perhaps the fans present at the main stadium of the clay court event were unaware of the story and felt that Kostiuk simply did not follow the usual tennis etiquette.
At first, Sabalenka – who had approached the network as if expecting some sort of exchange with Kostyuk – thought all the noise was directed at her.
“At first I thought they were booing me,” said Sabalenka. “I was a bit confused and thought, ‘OK, what should I do?
Sabalenka tried to ask the referee what was going on. She also looked at her entourage in the stands. Then she realized that although she is aware that Kostyuk and other Ukrainian tennis players refuse to greet opponents from Russia or Belarus after the match, viewers may not have known about it – and therefore Sabalenka reacted in a way that she did not feel deserved.
“They saw it,” she surmised, “as disrespect (for) me.”
Sabalenka called the whole experience “emotionally difficult” – for mundane tennis reasons, such as the nerves that accompany each first-round match, but more importantly, due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the war.
“You play against (a) a Ukrainian and you never know what will happen. You never know how people will support you or not?” explained Sabalenka, who went on an early break and lost 3-2 before going on six games in a row with a powerful first-hit strike. “I was worried that people would be against me, and I don’t like playing when people (are) so much against me.”
A journalist from Ukraine asked Sabalenka what her message to the world in connection with the war is, especially in this context: She can overtake Every Christmas number one in performance-based rankings over the next two weeks, and thus serves as a role model.
“Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, supports the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? No one – normal people – will ever support it. Why do we have to say things out loud It’s like, “One plus one (is) two.” Of course, we do not support war,” Sabalenka said. “If it could somehow affect the war, if it could stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately it’s not in our hands.”
When the reporter read some of these comments to Kostiuk, she replied in a calm, measured tone that she did not understand why Sabalenka did not come out and say that she “personally does not support this war.”
Kostyuk also rejected the idea that players from Russia or Belarus could be in a difficult situation after returning to these countries if they talk about what is happening in Ukraine.
“I don’t know why this is a difficult situation,” Kostiuk said with a laugh.
“I don’t know what other players are afraid of,” she said. “I’m going back to Ukraine where at any moment I could die from drones, missiles or whatever.”