WATCH: Following her Citi Open match against Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska, Azarenka spoke about the importance of tennis unity.
NEW YORK (AP) —
Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine explained her decision not to shake Victoria Azarenka’s hand following her 6-2, 6-3 loss to the Belarusian at the US Open with a racquet tap that echoed far beyond the confines of Court 17.
“It was my choice because I didn’t feel like any single person publicly condemned the war and their government’s actions,” Kostyuk explained in her post-match press conference. “I don’t think I can support this.”
Kostyuk, 20, has been one of the most outspoken athletes about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and he has been highly critical of the perceived silence from Russians and Belarusians representing the invading nations after their match.
“I had personal relationships with some of them, and they didn’t come up to me, and some of them have such large fan bases and people supporting and looking out for them from all over the world,” Kostyuk explained. “Having the fan base that they have and not using it in the right way to spread a good message that they don’t support the murders, rapes, and genocide that’s happening in the world:
This is not something I support and will never support.”
Azarenka, as a member of the WTA Player Council, falls into the latter category, according to Kostyuk, who said she sent her a text message on Wednesday warning her that there would be no handshake at the end of their match.
“I never had any personal animosity toward her, but because she has such a large role outside of tennis, in Belarus, and in the tennis world, being on the WTA Players Council, I feel she could have done more, at least in terms of our personal relationships with players.”
“I see her about once a week,” Kostyuk added. “It’s not like I talk about her in the press and she’s out there somewhere and I don’t see her.” We could have formed some sort of personal relationship, you know? It’s an important and significant topic, so I felt it was worthwhile to discuss it so that the atmosphere is less tense.”
Kostyuk was particularly outspoken about Azarenka’s decision to participate in Tennis Plays for Peace, a pre-tournament exhibition hosted by the USTA that raised funds for those affected by Ukraine’s war. Azarenka was later kicked out of the competition.
“Imagine there’s a WWII and there’s a fundraiser for Jews and a German player wants to play,” Kostyuk explained. “During the war, not seven decades later.” “I don’t think Jews would understand.”
In her own press conference, Azarenka expressed her disappointment at not being able to attend Tennis Plays for Peace. Having previously spoken about the importance of unity following her Citi Open match against Dayan Yastremska, the former No. 1 felt that her participation was no greater endorsement of Kostyuk’s cause.
“Why wouldn’t I participate in humanitarian aid for people who are in desperate need right now?” It’s not even a thought for me right now “Azarenka stated. “This, in my opinion, was an extremely sincere gesture. I’m not sure why it wasn’t interpreted this way. I’m not going to pass judgment because that’s what happened.”
She also disputed Kostyuk’s accusations of inaction on behalf of the Players Council, claiming that she had made numerous attempts to contact the Ukrainian through the WTA to no avail.
“I don’t have, and I’ve never had, a close relationship with Marta,” Azarenka explained. “I obviously knew who she was, but I’d never worked out with her.” I’ve never really talked to her about anything.
“I feel like I’ve had a very clear message from the start, which is that I’m here to try to help, and I’ve done a lot of that.” Maybe not something that people notice, but that’s not why I do it.
“If Marta wants to talk to me, as she texted me yesterday,” I said. I’m available at any time to listen, understand, and sympathize. I believe that empathy is extremely important in situations like this, as I stated clearly at the outset.
Whereas Kostyuk advocates for open communication, Azarenka believes her actions—and those of the Players Council—speak for themselves.
“I don’t need to sit here and applaud myself. My actions are crystal clear to me “Azarenka stated. “With all due respect, I don’t think she has any idea what I do on the Player Council because she isn’t there.
“From my perspective, I wish she had someone to help her navigate this difficult time.” As a result, there will be more sympathy from others. I believe that when you try to react, it is not always well received.
“Whatever I can do to help people, I don’t play political or media games; that’s not why I’m here.” I’m a straightforward person. I mean, many of you have known me for a long time. I never go around corners. I approach the individual directly. Twitter is not a place for debate. The place for discussion is in person, and anyone who knows me outside of the court knows that’s what I’m about.
I communicate with people in person, not over the phone or via text.
“If it needs to be said in the media, I’m very willing to do whatever is required.” Because, as I previously stated, it is critical to be human and empathetic to others in these situations. You never know what people are going through, and sometimes you can’t see it.”