No handshake after Ukraine, Belarusian players meet at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — A Ukrainian player refused to shake hands with Victoria Azarenka after the three-time U.S. Open runner-up from Belarus beat her at Flushing Meadows on Thursday.

Marta Kostyuk waited at the net holding her racket, which Azarenka hit with her racket after her 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Belarus helped Russia launch its invasion of Ukraine in February and Kostiuk said it had been on her mind since seeing the US Open draw that she might have to play Azarenka in the second round.

“It’s pretty personal,” Kostiuk said. “It wasn’t a personal match for me because it was Vikas in particular, but in general it wasn’t just a simple match that I play in a tournament.”

Asked about the traditional post-match handshake, Kostiuk said: “I just don’t think it’s the right thing to do in the circumstances I’m in right now.”

Azarenka said she had already faced this situation with a Ukrainian player when she played Dayana Yastremska last month in Washington.

“It is what it is. I’m just moving on,” Azarenka said. “I can’t force anyone to shake my hand. It’s their decision.”

Kostiuk said he texted Azarenka the day before the match to let her know there would be no handshake. Azarenka returned the text, telling Kostiuk that she was no longer at the venue, so Kostiuk dropped the subject because she wanted to deliver the message in person.

Azarenka said she contacted all Ukrainian players she has a relationship with in March after the invasion. Kostyuk is not one of them, but Azarenka said she tried nonetheless.

“Well, I’ve offered many times through the WTA, because I think there’s a kind of sensitivity. They told me it’s not a good time,” Azarenka said.

“If Marta wants to talk to me, like she texted me yesterday, I replied. I am open at all times to listen, to try to understand, to empathize. I think empathy right now is really important, which was again my clear message at the beginning.”

Kostiuk challenged Azarenka for being part of the “Tennis Plays for Peace” Expo that the US Tennis Association organized the week before the tournament to raise money for Ukraine. Azarenka withdrew from the lineup on the day of the event, which helped raise more than $1 million for humanitarian aid.

“Everybody’s trying to be super democratic about what happened and because it’s like my nation is being killed every day, I’m going to tell you from my perspective very quickly, so I don’t think I ever want to answer that question again,” Kostiuk said. “Imagine there is a Second World War and there is a fundraiser for the Jews and a German player wants to play. During the war, not 70 years after the war. During the war. I don’t think the Jews would understand.”

Azarenka, a member of the WTA Tour players’ council, said the important thing was that the event took place, not whether she was a part of it.

“I feel like I’ve had a very clear message from the beginning that I’m here to try to help, which I’ve done a lot,” Azarenka said. “Maybe not something that people see and I don’t do it for that. I do it for people in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who need transport or whatever. That’s important to me, to help people in need.”

Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon in response to the war. They are allowed to play in the US Open, without their countries or flags listed.

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More AP coverage of US Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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