Marta Kostyuk refuses to shake hands with Russian opponents

The Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk takes a stand.

The Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk takes a stand.
photo: AP

With her father and grandfather imprisoned in Kiev and the war raging around them, Ukrainian tennis star Marta Kostyuk made headlines when she defeated Russian competitor Varvara Gracheva in the final of the ATX Open on Sunday. After winning the match in straight sets (6-3, 7-5), Kostyuk shook hands with the referee however, refused to acknowledge her opponent in any way. The reason is obvious.

Kostyuk made it clear that this was the case nothing to do with professional respect. “We had a great game, don’t get me wrong,” said Kostyuk. “She’s a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete, but that has nothing to do with her as a person.” However, the burden of representing a country in such dire circumstances is heavy. As Kostyuk explained, “I’m more stressed about being outside and looking in than actually being [in Ukraine].”

That’s Kostyuk’s right. While some people may claim that Kostyuk is displaying poor sportsmanship by refusing to separate players by their nationality, Kostyuk claims that she would be willing to shake their hands if they publicly opposed the invasion of their homeland and not only against the war. However, most Russian and Belarusian tennis players do not.

This isn’t the first time Kostyuk has refused to shake hands with players of Russian or Belarusian origin. After losing to former world number one Victoria Azarenka at the US Open last September, Kostyuk generated headlines by refusing to acknowledge her opponent after the match.

The removal of Russian and Belarusian players has been a hot debate in the tennis world lately. Different organizations have different rules regarding their eligibility. While the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) allows players from both countries to compete and maintains that players should not be punished by the actions of their countries, individual tournaments like it Wimbledon have suspended players from both countries until the end of the conflict, citing their responsibility to limit Russia’s global influence. This was the first time since World War II, when German and Japanese players were excluded from competitions that Wimbledon had banned athletes from certain countries. Other tournaments have allowed players to play without showing any form of support for their country, even something as small as displaying their nation’s flag on their outfits.

Is it correct that these tournaments exclude athletes of certain nationalities? Stephane Gurow, CEO of Top Five Management, a sports management company, represents both Ukrainian and Russian tennis players – including Gracheva – and understands that the national conflict has created tensions in the dressing rooms, similar to football, as both sports constantly compete in international matches. He claims he has to stand behind his athletes regardless of politics and that he would like to see her play. Gracheva’s manager Jean-Rene Lisnard was much more direct: “She’s trying to do her job as well as possible, you know? It’s just a shame for these players to be associated with that, you know? If we punished every American or French player or any country every time there was a war, some players would never play.” Lisnard reiterated that Gracheva is only 21 and left Russia for France over five years ago after they played no role in the invasion that began in 2022.

Kostyuk’s victory on Sunday placed her at No. 40 in the WTA standings. She dedicated her ATX Open win to “Ukraine and all the people who are fighting and dying right now.” She’s trying to use her platform to end a war that has taken thousands of innocent lives, and she can’t be blamed for that. Several Russian tennis players have criticized their country’s invasion of Ukraine, both men’s and men’s and women’s sitesincluding Daria Kasatkina, Andrei Rublev, Daniel MedvedevAnd Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Any Russian athlete who still opposes the invasion does so of their own free will, and that makes Kostyuk’s dismissal of those players all the more understandable. Marta Kostyuk refuses to shake hands with Russian opponents

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