The French Open got underway this morning and we already have some drama, this time over a handshake.
Now the handshake at the net in tennis is something that is typically over-analyzed and blown out of proportion. It's honestly insane how much people tend to care about a two to three second event. Am I sort of doing that here? Well yes, but there's a lot of buzz surrounding what happened, or didn't happen, at the net after Aryna Sabalenka took down Marta Kostyuk in the first round today.
Sabalenka entered this year's French as the number two women's player in the world, with a prime chance of taking the top spot when these two weeks are over with. She's been on a roll since winning the Aussie Open at the beginning of the year. Sabalenka hails from Belarus, which obviously has thrown her name into the cross hairs of politics in sports.
On the other side of the coin we have Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.
Since the beginning of the Russia vs. Ukraine war there have been a lot of issues within the game of tennis between their respective players. Of course there was the controversial ban of Russian and Belarusian players from Wimbledon, which has since been lifted. There's also been constant tension between Ukrainian players and the Russians/Belarusians whenever faced off against one another. The only way to describe those encounters is uncomfortable, especially since these players don't necessarily share the views that their own country has with the war. That being said these Ukrainian players are going through a lot while receiving depressing news almost every single day from back home. How can you fault them for how they handle any of this?
Well after Sabalenka dispatched Kostyuk in straight sets the Ukrainian refused to shake her opponent's hand at the net. This sparked the crowd to then boo Kostyuk as she left the court, probably thinking it was a sign of being a sore loser more than the actual reality of the situation.
Now it hasn't been uncommon for Ukrainian players to act this way at the net when facing a Russian or Belarusian. They just don't feel comfortable having that moment with everything going on. It is what it is. Seems Kostyuk is also bothered by Sabalenka previously dancing around the question of whether she condemns the war or not.
Here was Sabalenka's response.
From what I understand this is the most adamant and clear of an answer Sabalenka has had on the matter. Seemed to me like a pretty well thought out, patient response. I mean what else is she really supposed to say there? Can also understand Kostyuk's frustration with everything going on. She still has immediate family members living in Kyiv. You have no idea what's going through these players' minds as they travel the world playing their sport while back home is at war. While you can't expect a full crowd to understand what's going on down at the court, it sucks to get booed off the court like that. All of it sucks. Can only hope the war comes to an end soon and these uncomfortable moments go away.
P.S. Since this was such a damper of a blog let's end it on a positive note. Aging Frenchman Lucas Pouille who had to qualify (win three matches in a row against lower ranked players) just to get into the tournament, wins in the first round. He then led the crowd singing the country's national anthem. Pretty cool moment.