The crowd at the French Open has once again become the centre of controversy after ugly scenes at the end of Aryna Sabalenka's quarter-final victory over Ukraine's Elina Svitolina. The Belarusian second seed stormed into the semi-finals after an impressive 6-4 6-4 triumph, before being denied a handshake at the net by her opponent.
Boos rang out from the stands as Svitolina walked straight off the court, shaking hands with the chair umpire but opting against the customary one with her opponent. In fairness, Svitolina had made it clear that she would not shake the hands of any players from Russia or Belarus, due to the ongoing war in her homeland.
In her press conference after the match, Svitolina accused Sabalenka of inciting the boos against her by standing at the net and waiting for a handshake she should have known was never coming. "I don't know what she was waiting for, because my statements were clear enough about the handshake," Svitolina said.
Svitolina said she was also anticipating the jeers from the French Open crowd, who also booed fellow Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk for snubbing the handshake of Sabalenka earlier in the tournament. "I was expecting that and it was not a surprise for me," she said of the jeers, which she also received when not shaking hands with Russia's Daria Kasatkina in the previous round. "Whoever in this situation loses, I guess gets booed. It was not a surprise for me."
The handshake snub divided the tennis world, with some viewers slamming the French crowd for booing Svitolina in light of the devastating situation in her Ukrainian homeland. Others agreed that Sabalenka encourage the French crowd to boo by standing at the net, with the sorry scenes labelled "shameful" and "disgusting" by tennis fans.
A bit perplexed as to why Sabalenka is stood at the net awaiting the handshake knowing full well Svitolina wouldn’t shake her hand.
Bizarre approach and very poor from her.
Poor from the crowd to boo Elina as well, Aryna’s chuckles to her box not cool at all. #RolandGarros https://t.co/wmRHNchDlu
— Iain (@Iain10912) June 6, 2023
Embarrassing from some in the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd to boo Elina Svitolina considering the circumstances. Get a grip. Shameful.
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) June 6, 2023
Svitolina is being absolutely ridiculous!! How did sabalenka inflame the situation!!! The crowd was going to boo either way. Sabalenka was being respectful!!!
— mohamed hoosain (@mhh13) June 6, 2023
"The French crowd booed Svitolina’s protest against the war."
No. She was booed for being a sore loser, and not shaking a hand of her opponent that bested her on that day, as is customary 🤷♂️#ShapingNarrativesNotReportingNews
— Rafal Kot (@rafalkot) June 6, 2023
What was she supposed to do...if she walks off first she will be booed for not shaking hands as Svitolina was. She waits for handshake as any good sportsman/woman would.
— John Book (@JohnBook007) June 6, 2023
They think they are so he heroic by trying to make athletes bear the burden of a war just because of their nationality, its disgusting... what svitolina and others like her are doing is violating human rights, because having a nationality isn't a crime, but rather a human right!
— Chuq (@chuqdodesejo) June 6, 2023
Aryna Sabalenka does not support Belarusian president or war
Svitolina has not shaken hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents since Ukraine was invaded by Russia with support from Belarus. Sabalenka, who has been pictured with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in the past, made it clear in her press conference after the match that she does not support him or the war in Ukraine.
The Belarusian had earlier skipped press conferences after insisting she did not "feel safe", amid questioning about her nationality and Belarus' involvement in the war. Sabalenka made it abundantly clear she did not support war and wanted to stay out of politics and simply focus on her tennis.
"I really hope that you guys will understand me, my feelings. You know that I really respect all of you... You can ask whatever you want. You will get all the information.
"But in the last press conference, I felt like my press conference became a political TV show, and I'm not expert in politics. I'm just a tennis player."
Sabalenka: "I don't support the war and I don't support Lukashenko right now".
This is a bold statement because we are well aware of the risks that RUS and BLR athletes face when making such declarations.
Also added Svitolina doesn't deserve the boos.pic.twitter.com/j1Hd8AT5PH
— Relevant Tennis (@RelevantTennis) June 6, 2023
Asked if Sabalenka was looking to inflame the situation by standing at the net instead of also walking back to her bench, Svitolina said: "Yeah, I think so."
"My initial reaction, was like, what are you doing? Because, in all my press conferences I made my position clear. I made multiple statements that I'm not shaking hands, and she played obviously Marta (Kostyuk of Ukraine) as well in the first round. So it's quite simple."
Victory means Sabalenka - who won the Australian Open in January - is on to her second consecutive grand slam semi-final where she will face Karolina Muchová, who defeated fellow unseeded star Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2 in the quarter-finals.
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