Roland-Garros 2023: Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk asks Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka to “position herself personally” against the war

The tension is not about to go down between Marta Kostyuk and Aryna Sabalenka. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the victory in the first round of Roland-Garros of the world number 2 over the 39th in the WTA rankings, Sunday May 28, was almost anecdotal. Originally from kyiv, Kostyuk has decided not to greet his opponents of Russian or Belarusian nationality at the end of the game. Her own way of challenging the current situation on the circuit and deploring the lack of action on the part of the WTA or the ATP.

Sunday, at the end of her match, Marta Kostyuk therefore totally ignored the last winner of the Australian Open when leaving the Parisian clay court, only greeting the referee. A behavior that did not please the public at the Philippe-Chatrier court at all, not necessarily aware of the whole affair. In a post-match press conference, Aryna Sabalenka tried to calm things down by saying “that no one, including Russian and Belarusian athletes, could support this war“. But the Ukrainian has shown herself to be more rebound than ever. Against her opponent, but also against the public, journalists and international tennis authorities.

Marta, were you shocked by the reaction of the public when you left the Philippe-Chatrier court and how did you feel?

Marta Kostyuk: I don’t know… (Dubitative, she is already taking a break) I want to see how people will react ten years from now when the war is over. I think they won’t be satisfied with themselves when they think back to what they did.

The number two seed Aryna Sabalenka did not flinch for her first round against the Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk by winning in two sets 6-3, 6-2.  The two players did not shake hands after the match due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Obviously, it’s the fact of not having shaken hands…

I said I wasn’t going to shake hands, and I don’t know why people thought I would change my mind.

Until today, had you ever felt such hostility, especially from the public?

I don’t know, I feel like people support me in the different tournaments. I want to play my best tennis and want people to support me as a tennis player. I have to say that I didn’t expect what happened today, not at all. People should be embarrassed, honestly, but that’s not for me to judge. I feel good. On social networks, following my statements, I received a lot of negative feedback but I deleted almost all my accounts on the phone. I don’t read anything. I’m tired of what people say, it doesn’t make sense, I don’t watch anymore.

Just before you, and you may not have had a chance to hear it, Aryna Sabalenka claimed that “no one in this world, including Russian and Belarusian athletes, could support this war“. This is a strong statement, made here, by a Belarusian tennis player…

She never said that she did not support this war personally! (She looks around the assembly then resumes, vehement) And the journalists are doing a lot of work to lighten things up… I feel like you should change the questions you ask these athletes, since the war is already here! It’s been 15 months since it started, and I think you have to ask these players the question: who should win the war? If you ask that question, I’m not sure these people will say they want Ukraine to win the war.

Because if you ask me who I want to see win the war, I’d say Ukraine. I don’t know how or when it will end, but I want Ukraine to win. For her (Aryna Sabalenka), I think she should speak for herself first, and then speak for all the other athletes. Because I personally know tennis players who support the war. So to advance that “no one in the world supports this war“, I think that’s a bit strong, because you can only speak for yourself.

Aryna Sabalenka, who is in a difficult position, also said: “I cannot stop the war”…

(She cuts off the reporter’s question) I feel sorry for her…

The question is not whether she can stop the war or not, but rather whether a leader, or someone who is a real role model for many people, chooses to speak out in a very difficult situation or not. .

I don’t know why the situation is so difficult for her. (She blows) Since the start of the war, they’ve all been in very difficult situations, and I don’t know what’s difficult about that. She may be number 1 in the world after this tournament and she will be number 1 in one of the most important sports in the world. If we look at the statistics, in Russia, 80 to 85% of the population supports this war. Speaking, she (Aryna Sabalenka) could send messages because most of these people have never left their country.

Someone like Aryna, has traveled all over the world, has a huge community of people who support her. And there are a lot of platforms, media, like le Washington Post or CNN, which are read or followed by billions of people around the world… (she pauses) But she, she rejects her responsibility. I can’t respect that! She said I hated her. I have never said in public or in private, or to anyone, that I hated Aryna Sabalenka, or any player, but I do not respect her because of the position she adopts. So I don’t understand why she is in a “difficult situation”. Honestly, I don’t understand.

Some Russian and Belarusian athletes may be afraid to express themselves in relation to their families… What do you think? Someone like Daria Kasatkina (Russian) was clearer on her position than Aryna Sabalenka… Do you accept that or should more be done?

Kasatkina said she would not return to Russia. It’s her choice, she took a stand and she gave up something that’s important to her in order to… (She cuts herself) I don’t know how to express it… (She hesitates then resumes) To stay on the side of truth, kindness, love, I think.

“I don’t know what scares other players. Me, when I go back to Ukraine, I could die any second in a drone or missile attack. So what are they afraid of?”

Marta Kostyuk, Ukrainian player and 39th in the world

at a press conference

Most players have the financial means to bring their families out but they don’t, I don’t know why. I was forced to do it. Like I said, I don’t respect that. It’s an individualistic sport, and there are five Ukrainian girls in the world top 100, so it’s not that hard to come and talk to us for a few minutes, to say something. But they keep their mouths closed, their eyes fixed on the ground and say nothing. I don’t understand. I see these players (Russians and Belarusians) every week in the locker room, and they never had the audacity to come see me. The war started 15 months ago. I don’t know if they will do it now.

A few weeks ago, you all spoke with WTA officials to discuss this issue. Have there been any advances?

We got a call when I was in kyiv (in March) and after the call, we understood that nothing had really changed! Everyone is on the defensive, as they have been throughout this whole situation. I don’t know why they are so afraid of us. We sent some pretty tough emails, very strong emails, and we got the answer that they were working on it, that they wanted to help us as best they could, but nothing changed.

I don’t know when we’ll get the next call. I feel like we tried everything, everything we could. I don’t have the impression that we can do anything else with the WTA and the ATP directly, it’s impossible. I hope the UK will not grant visas and that they (Russians and Belarusians) will not be able to return to the country to play. For now, I think that’s the only reasonable idea, since we’ve done everything we can.

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