Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka reveals it wasn’t easy to win her first-round match against Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, given the booing from the crowd due to political situation between the two nations
Aryna Sabalenka serves to Marta Kostyuk yesterday. Pics/Getty Images
Aryna Sabalenka won a politically-charged French Open duel against Marta Kostyuk on Sunday as jeers rained down on the defeated Ukrainian who refused to shake hands with her Belarusian opponent. World No. 2 and Australian Open champion Sabalenka swept 10 of the last 12 games to win 6-3, 6-2 as she kick-started her push to reach the second week in Paris for the first time. Kostyuk honoured her pledge not to shake hands with Sabalenka in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow. “It was a very tough match, tough emotionally. I didn’t know if the booing was against me, but thank you so much for your support, it’s really important,” said Sabalenka, who apologised for her exaggerated, theatrical bow to the Court Philippe Chatrier crowd. Kostyuk, 20, famously refused to shake hands with Sabalenka’s Belarusian compatriot and former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka at the US Open last year.
She opted instead for a cursory touch of racquets at the net. The 39th-ranked Kostyuk, who has been a vociferous critic of the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players to keep competing on tour since the invasion of her country, questioned the crowd’s motives in booing her stance. “I want to see people react to it in 10 years when the war is over. I think they will not feel really nice about what they did,” she said.
“I didn’t expect it. People should be honestly embarrassed.” Sabalenka had admitted on the eve of the tournament that she could accept if Kostyuk had feelings of “hate” towards her. “I never said publicly nor privately nor to anyone that I hate Aryna Sabalenka or any of the players. I just don’t respect her because of her position in this situation,” added Kostyuk, who wants Russian and Belarusian players to individually denounce the war which has raged on since February last year.
Stefanos Tsitsipas returns to Jiri Vesely in Paris yesterday (right) Daniel Evans during his match against Thanasi Kokkinakis
This year sees a new era at the French Open where for the first time since 2004 Rafael Nadal will not grace the famous red clay. Injured Nadal, the 14-time champion, sits out the 2023 edition of a tournament where he has lost just three of 115 matches. In his absence, Novak Djokovic, a two-time winner, and the man responsible for two of Nadal’s three losses, will look to edge ahead of the Spaniard with a record-setting 23rd major.
However, he faces serious threat from Carlos Alcaraz, the world number one aiming to add a Roland Garros title to his US Open triumph. Alcaraz and Djokovic begin their campaigns on Monday. Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who blew a two-set lead to lose the 2021 final to Djokovic, made the second round Sunday with a 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9/7) win over Jiri Vesely, the 455th-ranked Czech.
Vesely, who had previously only played in two second-tier Challenger events this year, squandered four set points which would have forced a deciding set. Britain’s Dan Evans was the highest seed to fall in early action on Sunday, the 20th seed losing 4-6, 4-6, 4-6 to Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis.
“It’s shocking how I played today,” said Evans. Andrey Rublev, the seventh seed and Monte Carlo champion in April, begins against Laslo Djere of Serbia. Rublev has made the quarter-finals in Paris on two occasions while 57th-ranked Djere has twice made the third round.
Women’s third seed
Jessica Pegula and eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari are also in action on Sunday. Pegula, a quarter-finalist in 2022, tackles American compatriot Danielle Collins. Sakkari made the semi-finals in 2021 where she was defeated in a three-set epic by eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova. Another Czech player, Karolina Muchova, is her opponent on Sunday.
Other key results
>> H Hurkacz beat D Goffin 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4
>> K Khachanov beat C Lestienne 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3
>> M Sakkari lost to K Muchova 6-7 (5/7), 5-7