The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has extended beyond the political realm and into the world of sports, impacting the interaction between athletes from these nations. Tennis player Elina Svitolina, hailing from Ukraine, has made it clear that she will not partake in the customary handshake with opponents from Russia or Belarus. This decision is a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with Belarus’ assistance in February 2022, leading to continued fighting between the nations. The DC Open recently witnessed Svitolina’s victory over Victoria Azarenka, where both players opted to forego the handshake and instead saluted the chair umpire.
Unfortunately, some spectators at previous tournaments were unaware of the underlying reasons behind Svitolina’s refusal to shake hands, which led to booing and criticism aimed at the Ukrainian players. Following her match against Svitolina at Wimbledon, Azarenka faced loud jeers for not approaching the net for the handshake. However, she had made that decision out of respect for Svitolina’s stance. Reflecting on the situation, Svitolina suggested that tennis tournaments should inform fans about the circumstances surrounding her choice. While the All England Club declined to take action, Svitolina received assurance from WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that an announcement would be made before her match against Azarenka in Washington.
True to his word, Steve Simon ensured that the crowd in Washington was informed of the situation. A message was displayed on the scoreboards at the conclusion of the match, emphasizing the absence of a handshake and requesting respect and understanding from the spectators. Svitolina expressed her appreciation for the WTA’s support, acknowledging that it was important for them to respect the decision of Ukrainian players. Azarenka, on the other hand, seemed less bothered by the message, questioning the value of continually discussing the topic and suggesting that it should have been addressed much earlier.
The WTA has yet to decide whether to implement a similar procedure at all tournaments involving players from Ukraine, Russia, or Belarus. The matter of providing an explanation to the fans remains under consideration. As the conflict persists and affects the interactions between players, the tour organizers will likely need to take further action to bridge understanding between competitors and spectators alike.
Action at the DC Open
Apart from the handshake controversy, the DC Open’s first day featured thrilling matches. Defending champion Liudmila Samsonova extended her winning streak to six matches with a convincing victory over Danielle Collins, who made it to the 2022 Australian Open final. Samsonova’s superb performance included saving both break points and capitalizing on Collins’ eight double faults. Other notable results included Lauren Davis defeating 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Belinda Bencic advancing due to Anastasia Potapova’s retirement, and Marta Kostyuk overcoming 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in a hard-fought three-set battle.
On the men’s side, Mackenzie McDonald claimed a straightforward victory over Diego Schwartzman, while Aslan Karatsev triumphed against Kiranpal Pannu after a tiebreak. Alexander Shevchenko overcame Maxime Cressy, Michael Mmoh defeated Bradley Klahn, and Yosuke Watanuki advanced to the second round when Wu Yibing was forced to retire due to illness.
The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has permeated the world of tennis, leading to the refusal of handshakes between players from these nations. While some fans may express their dissatisfaction with this decision, it is crucial to understand the backdrop of the conflict and respect the athletes’ choices. The DC Open serves as an example of how the tennis community can strive to bridge this gap and promote greater understanding among players and spectators.