PARIS (AP) — At first, Aryna Sabalenka thought the boos and derisive whistles coming from the French Open crowd were directed at her after a first-round victory Sunday. Instead, the negative reaction was aimed at her opponent, Marta Kostyuk, for not participating in the usual post-match handshake up at the net.
Kostyuk, who is from Ukraine, avoided so much as any eye contact with Sabalenka, who is from Belarus, after the match, instead walking directly over to acknowledge the chair umpire. Sabalenka walked toward the net as if expecting some sort of exchange.
But this is something Kostyuk has been doing whenever she has faced any opponent from Russia or Belarus since her country was invaded by Russia, with help from Belarus, in February 2022.
Perhaps the fans on hand at Court Philippe Chatrier did not know the backstory and figured Kostyuk simply failed to follow tennis etiquette by congratulating the winner after the lopsided result: Sabalenka grabbed six games in a row during one stretch and came out on top 6-3, 6-2.
“It was a very tough match — I would say tough emotionally,” said the No. 2-seeded Sabalenka, who won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.
During an on-court interview in the main stadium, Sabalenka told the spectators she was sure their jeering “was against me, so I was a little surprised, but then I felt your support.”
Before play began on Day 1 of the clay-court tournament, the players did not pose together for the standard photos up at the net after the coin toss to determine who would serve first.
Kostyuk, a 20-year-old who is ranked 39th, won her first WTA title in March at Austin, Texas, by beating a Russian opponent and neither player went to the net afterward that day.
During her pre-tournament news conference on Friday, Sabalenka was asked about the likelihood there would be no handshake on Sunday.
“If she hates me, OK. I can’t do anything about that. There is going to be people who loves me; there is going to be people who hates me,” Sabalenka said then. “If she hates me, I don’t feel anything like that (toward) her.”