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Svitolina: Sabalenka's Waiting Game at Net Inflamed Fans

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Aryna Sabalenka ended Elina Svitolina's inspired run for her first Roland Garros semifinal.

Svitolina issued a parting shot following the Belarusian's 6-4, 6-4 triumph today.

More: Politics and Tennis Continue to Collide at Roland Garros

Ukrainian Svitolina has refused to shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022.

At the conclusion of today's match, Sabalenka, despite knowing Svitolina's stance, stood at net as if awaiting the handshake.

Some fans in Court Philippe Chatrier, apparently unaware of Svitolina's position, booed at the no handshake.

Afterward, Svitolina said fans boos didn't surprise her, but Sabalenka's stand did surprise.

"My initial reaction, don't know, was like, what are you doing (smiling)?" Svitolina said. "Because, yeah, all my press conference I say my clear position. So I don't know.

"Maybe she's not on social media during the tournaments, but it is pretty clear. I made multiple statements that I'm not shaking hands, and she played obviously [Ukrainian] Marta [Kostyuk] as well the first round. So is quite simple, you know...

"Secondly, no, [the booing] was quite expected. I was expecting that. Whoever in this situation loses, I guess, gets booed, so I was expecting that. It was not a surprise for me."

Embed from Getty Images

Asked if she believes Sabalenka's standing at net "inflamed" the situation, Svitolina replied, "yeah, I think so unfortunately."

When Svitolina sealed her 6-5, 7-6(5) fourth-round win over Russian Daria Kasatkina, the ninth-seeded Kasatkina, aware of her opponent's position, did not wait at net for a handshake instead offering Svitolina a thumbs up before packing up her bag.

Former world No. 3 Svitolina also questioned why Naomi Osaka was fined by Roland Garros for declining mandatory post-match press over while dealing with mental issues last year, while Sabalenka, who skipped the post-match presser after the fourth round, did not face similar penalty.


Svitolina said she's faced media and public scrutiny for her positions and believes Sabalenka should also face the tough questions in press.

"Definitely I think it should be equal for everyone. Like, for example, why Naomi got fined last time and this time there is no fine for the player [Sabalenka], which also skip the press conference," Svitolina said. "So this is like if there would be no fine for Naomi, maybe it would be different, but, you know, it should be equal for every situation.

"Yeah, just I faced difficulties, I faced difficulty also with the question about Novak, about his statement about Kosovo. So, you know, I'm not escaping. I have my strong position, and I'm vocal about that. I'm not gonna try to win likeness of the people by betraying my strong belief and strongest position for my country."

Svitolina, who gave birth to her daughter Skai last October, returned to the pro tour in Charleston last April and battled back into her ninth Grand Slam quarterfinal in Paris.

Ultimately, Svitolina says facing severe challenges are strengthening Ukrainian women's fighting spirit.

"I think the spirit, the spirit that we are united together and the spirit that nothing comes easy to us ever," Svitolina said. "I already said that like years before, that all of us, like, if you take all the girls that are right now like Tsurenko, Kostyuk, Kalinina, we all had to overcome difficulties with the money, with the place to practice, with the coaches, when we were growing up.

"It was one really knew tennis at that time.

"So I think this fighting spirit that we have, and right now I think the power of being unite all together for one goal to win."

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty