CNN

Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Belarusian opponent Victoria Azarenka after their US Open match on Thursday.

Kostyuk had told Azarenka via text message before the second-round match that she intended to refuse the usual post-match handshake given Belarus’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .

The pair instead tapped racquets to the net late in the match, which Azarenka won 6-2 6-3.

“It was my choice – I don’t feel like I know a single person who has publicly condemned the war and the actions of their government, so I don’t feel like I can support that,” said the young man of 20 years. -old Kostyuk told ESPN.

“Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great competitor. But that has nothing to do with her being a human being,” she added.

Kostyuk is one of many Ukrainian players who have called on Russian and Belarusian athletes to speak out against the Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine if they want to compete in international competitions.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The country was used as a launch point for Russian troops in February and NATO officials have said the ‘vast majority’ of Russian air operations in Ukraine are launched from Belarus – although Lukashenko has previously said his country was “dragged” into the war.

“I was not surprised. I don’t think it’s important to make a fuss about it,” Azarenka told reporters of the handshake, adding that it also happened when she faced Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in Washington last month.

“I always shake hands with my opponents… That’s how it is. I move on. I can’t force anyone to shake hands with me. It’s their decision. What does it mean to me? made you feel? It’s not the most important thing in the world right now.

Ahead of this year’s US Open, the American Tennis Association (USTA) announced that Azarenka had been removed from participating in a “Tennis Plays for Peace” event to raise funds for Ukraine.

“Vika is a strong leader player and we appreciate her willingness to participate. Given the sensitivities of Ukrainian players and the ongoing conflict, we believe this is the right course of action for us,” a statement from the club said. USTA.

Thursday, Azarenka said she was “open at all times to listen, try to understand, sympathize” with the Ukrainian players.

Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has reached the US Open final three times.

“I believe empathy at a time like this is really important, which was, again, my clear message at the start,” she continued.

“I’m going to stick with it, because what’s going on in the world is very difficult right now, but we have to remember that we’re all human and we have to treat each other that way. ”

This is not the first time that tennis has meddled in geopolitics following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian and Belarus players, who compete under neutral flags at the US Open, were banned from competing at Wimbledon earlier this year. The decision, however, proved divisive and tennis governing bodies reacted by stripping ranking points from the tournament.

Azarenka, a three-time US Open runner-up, will face Croatian Petra Martić in the third round on Saturday.

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