Aryna Sabalenka smacked a forehand winner to reach the French Open semifinals for the first time, then strode forward. Placing both hands atop the net tape, she leaned forward and stared directly at Elina Svitolina, her Ukrainian opponent. (More Tennis News)
Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion whose nation, Belarus, helped Russia invade Ukraine to begin a war that now is in its 17th month, knew that Svitolina would not participate Tuesday in the usual post-match handshake.
Like other players from Ukraine, including Sabalenka's first-round opponent at Roland Garros last week, Svitolina has avoided that traditional greeting after any match against someone from Russia or Belarus, for obvious reasons.
Although not, apparently, obvious to the second-seeded Sabalenka in that moment; she explained — while speaking with the media after avoiding news conferences after the preceding two contests — that she went to the net out of “instinct.”
Nor, apparently, obvious to some members of the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier for Sabalenka's 6-4, 6-4 victory, because there was a smattering of boos directed at Svitolina afterward, thinking she was breaching tennis etiquette, not taking a stand related to what is happening in her country.
When she saw Sabalenka standing there after the match, Svitolina said, “My initial reaction ... was like, 'What are you doing?”
Asked whether Sabalenka might have inflamed the situation by waiting at the net, Svitolina replied: “Yeah, I think so, unfortunately.”
Sabalenka — who will play Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals on Thursday — returned to the standard Q-and-A setting with reporters Tuesday, after skipping two such sessions because, she said, she “did not feel safe” after being asked about Belarus and Ukraine at her news conference last Wednesday and wanted to protect her “mental health and well-being.”
One of the topics was her relationship with Belarus' authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, and that was raised again Tuesday.
“I don't want my country to be involved in any conflict. I said it many times, and you know where I stand. You have my position. You have my answer. I answered it many times. I'm not supporting the war,” Sabalenka said, adding a moment later: “I don't want to be involved in any politics. I just want to be a tennis player.”
A reporter asked whether she supports Lukashenko.
“It's a tough question,” Sabalenka said. “I mean, I don't support war, meaning I don't support Lukashenko right now.”