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Ukraine tensions boil over following Victoria Azarenka, Marta Kostyuk US Open clash, which ends with a racquet tap
Kostyuk continued to criticize Belarusian Azarenka’s perceived lack of public support for Ukraine in the aftermath of their second-round encounter in Flushing Meadows.
Published Sep 01, 2022
WATCH: Azarenka spoke about a need for tennis to show unity following her Citi Open match against Ukraine's Dayana Yastremska.
NEW YORK—It was a racquet tap that reverberated well beyond the bounds of Court 17, as Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk explained her decision not to shake Victoria Azarenka’s hand following her 6-2, 6-3 defeat to the Belarusian at the US Open.
“It was my choice because I didn’t feel like any single person who condemned the war publicly, and the actions of their government,” Kostyuk explained in her post-match press conference. “I don’t feel like I can support this.”
Kostyuk, 20, has been among the most vocal athletes when it comes to the continuing war in Ukraine, and remained highly critical of the perceived silence from Russians and Belarusians representing those invading nations after their match.
“With some of them, I had personal relationships and they didn’t come up to me, and some of them have such big fan bases and people supporting and looking out for them from all over the world," Kostyuk said. “In such an important topic that’s happening in the world, having the fan base that they have and don’t use it in the right way to spread a good message that they don’t support the murders, the rapes, the genocide that’s happening: I don’t support this, and I never will.”
As a member of the WTA Player Council, Azarenka falls in the latter category for Kostyuk, who said she had sent a text message on Wednesday aiming to warn her that there would be no handshake at the end of their match.
Imagine there is a WWII, and there’s a fundraiser for Jewish people and a German player wants to play. During the war, not 70 years after it happened. I don’t think Jewish people would understand. Marta Kostyuk on Azarenka's attempt to participate in Tennis Plays for Peace
“I never had any personal hate towards her, but because she has such a big role outside the tennis, in Belarus, in the tennis world, being on the WTA Players Council, I feel she could have done more at least with our personal relationships around players.
“I see her every week,” Kostyuk added. “It’s not like I talk about her in press and she’s somewhere in the world and I don’t see her. We could have developed some personal relationship, you know? It’s an important topic and a big one, so I felt like it was worth it so the vibes around are not as tense.”
Kostyuk was especially outspoken of the initial decision that Azarenka would participate in Tennis Plays for Peace, an pre-tournament exhibition hosted by the USTA that raised money for those affected by the war in Ukraine. Azarenka was later removed from the event.
“Imagine there is a WWII, and there’s a fundraiser for Jewish people and a German player wants to play,” Kostyuk said. “During the war, not 70 years after it happened. I don’t think Jewish people would understand.”
Azarenka tapped back in her own press conference, expressing disappointment at not being able to attend Tennis Plays for Peace. Having previously spoke about a need for unity after her Citi Open match against Dayan Yastremska, the former No. 1 felt that her intended involvement was no greater endorsement of Kostyuk’s cause.
“Why wouldn't I participate in a humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now? It's not even a thought for me at that moment," said Azarenka. "I thought that this was a gesture that really shows commitment. I'm not sure why it wasn't taken it that way. I don't want to judge that, that's what happened.”
She took further issue with Kostyuk’s accusations of inaction on behalf of the Players Council, saying that she has made repeated attempts to reach out to the Ukrainian through the WTA to no avail.
“I don't have, or I never had a close relationship with Marta,” Azarenka said. “I obviously knew who she is, but I've never practiced with her. I've never really had conversation with her.
“I feel like I've had a very clear message from the beginning, is that I'm here to try to help, which I have done a lot. Maybe not something that people see, and that's not what I do it for. I do it for people who in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who needed transportation or whatever. That's what is important to me, to help people are in need.
“If Marta wants to speak with me, like she texted me yesterday, I replied. I'm open to any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize. I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important, which has, again, been my clear message in the beginning.”
If it's needed to be said in the media, that I'm very open to do whatever is necessary. Victoria Azarenka on her support of Ukraine
Where Kostyuk is advocating for vocal transparency, Azarenka believes her actions—and those of the Players Council—speak for themselves.
“I don't need to sit here and pat myself on the back. I know very clearly of my actions," said Azarenka. "I don't think that, with all due respect, I don't think she has any idea of what I do on the Player Council because she's not there.
“From my perspective, I wish she had somebody who guide her a little bit better through this difficult time. So, you know, there is going to be more sympathy from others. I feel like when you're trying to react, it's not always received that well.
“Whatever I can do to help people, I don't play political games, I don't play media games, that's not what I'm here for. I'm very direct person. I mean, many of you know me for many years. I don't go around the corners. I go straight to the person. The Twitter is not a place for discussion. The place for discussion is face to face, and if anybody who knows me outside of the court, that's what I'm about. I talk with people, not through the phone or through the text, face to face.
“If it's needed to be said in the media, that I'm very open to do whatever is necessary. Because I think, as I said, in these type of moments, it's important to be human and be empathetic to others. What people are going through you never know, sometimes you cannot see it.”