PARIS, May 27 — Aryna Sabalenka said yesterday that “it’s OK if she hates me” as the Belarusian star braced to face Ukraine rival Marta Kostyuk in a highly-charged French Open showdown.
World number two Sabalenka knows that Kostyuk, an outspoken critic of tennis authorities over their handling of players from Russia and their Belarusian allies in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, will refuse to shake hands after their first round match at Roland Garros.
“If she hates me, OK. I can’t do anything about that,” said 25-year-old Sabalenka.
“There are going to be people who love me; there are going to be people who hate me. If she hates me, I don’t feel anything like that to her.”
Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Belarus’s two-time Grand Slam title winner and former world number one Victoria Azarenka at last year’s US Open in New York.
They agreed to touch racquets instead at the net at the end of the match.
“If I could I would stop the war,” said Australian Open champion Sabalenka.
“And about the no shaking, I can kind of understand them. Like I imagine if they’re going to shake hands with Russians and Belarusians, then they’re gonna get so many messages from their home countries.
“So I kind of understand why they are not doing it. At the same time, I feel like sports shouldn’t be in politics. Like we’re just athletes. If they feel good with no shaking hands, I’m happy with that.”
Sabalenka defeated Kostyuk in Dubai in February 2022, just one week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Last week in Rome, Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina refused to shake hands with Veronika Kudermetova after beating the Russian in the semi-final. — AFP