Aryna Sabalenka said on Friday that “it’s okay if she hates me” as the Belarusian star braced to take on Ukrainian rival Marta Kostyuk in a highly charged French Open showdown.
World number two Sabalenka knows that Kostyuk, an outspoken critic of tennis authorities over their dealings with players from Russia and their Belarusian allies in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, will refuse to shake hands after their match in the first round at Roland Garros.
“If she hates me, okay. I can’t help it,” said 25-year-old Sabalenka.
“There will be people who love me; there will be people who hate me. If she hates me, I don’t feel that way about her.”
Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Belarusian two-time Grand Slam title winner and former world number one Victoria Azarenka at last year’s US Open in New York.
They agreed to touch rackets at the net at the end of the match.
“If I could, I would stop the war,” said Australian Open champion Sabalenka.
“And about not shaking hands, I can somewhat understand them. I imagine if they start shaking hands with Russians and Belarusians, they will get so many messages from their homeland.
“So I kind of understand why they don’t do it. At the same time, I feel like sports shouldn’t be in politics. Like we’re just athletes. If they feel good without shaking hands, I’m happy with that.”
Sabalenka defeated Kostyuk in Dubai in February 2022, just a week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina refused to shake hands with Veronika Kudermetova in Rome after beating the Russian in the semifinals.