Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina refused to shake hands with her Russian opponent after winning a match Friday, saying she did so out of respect for the men and women defending Ukraine from Moscow’s invasion.
“I’m standing for my country. I’m doing everything possible in a way to support, to give a good spirit for the men and for the women who are right now in the front lines, fighting for our land and for our country. So, can you imagine the guy or the girl who is right now on the front lines, looking at me, and I’m like, acting like nothing is happening?” Svitolina said, following her three-set win over Russian Anna Blinkova in the third round of the French Open.
After Friday’s victory, Svitolina avoided Blinkova while the two took turns shaking the hand of the chair umpire.
The Ukrainian said she would continue to snub any opponents from Russia or Belarus, the close Moscow ally.
“What the Russian government and Russian soldiers are doing on our land is really, really terrible,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said. “It touches many different areas. It touches sport. It touches acting. It touches all different areas. So, we are all united Ukrainians and this is our position.”
Svitolina said she would like to see Russian and Belarusian players speak out and call for their countries to end the war.
Belarusian bows out of media appearance: World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, meanwhile, did not participate in a customary post-match news conference Friday.
In her last media appearance Wednesday, the Belarusian had been repeatedly asked to comment on the war in Ukraine and Belarus’ role, but she repeatedly declined to do so. This continued until the moderator halted the line of questioning.
Sabalenka said she had not felt safe during the Wednesday news conference.
“For my own mental health and well-being, I have decided to take myself out of this situation today, and the tournament has supported me in this decision,” she said in an interview released by tournament organizers.
Top Russian player weighs in: Last month, Daria Kasatkina, Russia’s top-ranked women’s tennis player, expressed her sympathy for Ukrainian players who refuse to shake her hand after matches.
“Well, the saddest part is the war still going on,” Kasatkina said. “So, of course, players from Ukraine have got a lot of reasons to not shake our hands. I accept it and it is how it is. It’s a very sad situation and I understand.”
Ninth seed Kasatkina will face the unseeded Svitolina in the fourth round Sunday.