When Belarusian Alina Sabalenka and Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk faced each other in the opening round of the women’s singles draw at the French Open, there was no doubt that the start of the tournament would go off with fireworks.
It did more than that.
The scoreline marked a decisive 6-3, 6-2 win for Paris’ No. 2 seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sabalenka, one of the world’s most watched players.
But what didn’t show up on the scoreline was the action of Philippe Chatrier, the morning crowd on the main court at Roland Garros. The crowd called out to Kostyuk at the start of the match, but a rain of boos rained down when she left the court without shaking hands with Sabalenka. Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian players.
And Sabalenka made a defiant statement on Sunday, unusual for a Belarusian or Russian player, denouncing Russian aggression like never before.
“No one in this world, neither Russian nor Belarusian players, supports the war. Nobody,” Sabalenka said at the press conference after the victory. “How can you support war? No one, no ordinary person will ever support it.
“It’s like one plus one, two,” she continued, saying that if she could stop the war she would. “Unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”
Shortly after, however, Kostyuk dismissed Sabalenka’s sentiments as empty words.
“I think we should ask the players who would like to win the war, because if I asked them this question, I don’t know if they would say they want Ukraine,” Kostyuk said.
He added that Sabalenka should not be talking about other Russian or Belarusian players, but about herself.
“I personally know athletes in tennis who support the war,” she said without specifying.
The Ukrainian War’s impact on tennis is continuous and never ending. Fifteen months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war shows no signs of ending. (Belarus provides a staging ground for Russian soldiers, and the leader said the country would join the war if attacked.)
Belarus and Russia were expelled from tennis team competitions, and their flags and names were expelled from the sport. The move left Ukrainian players unhappy and Russian and Belarusian players feeling marginalized.
Sunday’s tension was in stark contrast to the celebratory mood on the opening day of the French Open. It’s one of his most enjoyable days in tennis, especially when the sky shines in that particular shade of bright Parisian blue. There’s no red like the clay court red of Roland Garros, and the crowd looks so carefree and elegant, seemingly alternating hands with Panama hats, silk spring dresses, and fancy glasses of Aperol. neither.
Everyone wonders why Rafael Nadal, who won the men’s singles title a record 14 times and has become synonymous with the tournament, is out injured. But as Nadal said, tennis goes fast and waits for no one. Every time the Frenchman entered the game, the cheers echoed across the pitch like never before.
But as Kostyuk and Sabalenka made clear, it’s entirely possible that the impact of the war will make this tournament and tennis summer look different. Elina Svitolina, one of the most successful players Ukraine has ever produced, returns to the Grand Slams after maternity leave on Monday against Martina Trevisan. Angelina Kalinina (Ukraine), whose grandparents had to move out and her parents’ house was blown up, will face Diane Parry (France) in her first match on Tuesday after impressing in this month’s Italian Open final. ).
“Everyone is in a completely different situation,” Kostyuk said in an interview on Sunday. “If anyone needs comfort, I’m always there. We have a very good group.”
But Kostyuk was the one who seemed to need a little solace on Sunday after the game. At the final point, she shook hands with the referee and went straight to her courtside seat. Sabalenka also shook hands with the referee and stood for a while as Kostyuk gathered her belongings as the restless noise from the crowd began to rise.
At first Sabalenka thought the boos were against her, but later realized it was against Kostyuk, but unfairly, Ukrainian players shook hands with Belarusians and Russians. He added that he understood why he didn’t want to be seen where he was.
Kostyuk said he was upset by the reaction, which was so different from the supportive reception in the US this year when he refused to shake hands with his Russian opponent.
“I would love to see people react to this film 10 years after the war is over,” she said. “I don’t think they feel very good about what they did.”
Kostyuk last visited Ukraine in March to visit his father and grandfather. She visited there after the Miami Open. She had to fly four flights to Poland via a temporary residence in Monte Carlo, a two-and-a-half-hour train ride to the border, and a six-hour drive from there. She spent five days there, unable to sleep with the distant sound of bomb-carrying drones to which her relatives had somehow become accustomed. She has not yet recovered from her trip, she said.
She woke up at 5 a.m. Sunday to see a series of alerts on her cell phone about the latest drone attack on Kiev, the largest of its kind in the war. She said she tried not to look at her phone in the middle of the night, but when she saw all the alerts, she couldn’t resist her urge to find out what happened. rice field.
A few hours later she was preparing for her match against Sabalenka at Roland Garros. To her surprise, she said, ahead of a match against a Russian or Belarusian, for the first time since the war began, she did not focus on the opponent’s nationality. It was refreshing, she said, and it made her think that the day would come when war would no longer encroach on her chosen profession, and that every game of tennis would be no more, no less.
Maybe someday, but not Sunday.