A 20-year-old Ukrainian tennis star broke down in tears after defeating her 22-year-old Russian opponent to win a WTA final, then pointedly eschewed shaking the Russian’s hand after the match.
Marta Kostyuk, born in Kyiv and ranked 52nd in the world going into the tournament, defeated Varvara Gracheva 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the ATX Open in Austin, Texas.
“Being in the position that I am in right now, it’s extremely special to win this title,” Kostyuk said after the match. “I want to dedicate this title to Ukraine and to all the people who are fighting and dying right now.”
In January, at the Australian Open, Kostyuk acknowledged it had been “very upsetting” to see Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, posing next to a Russian flag emblazoned with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s face.
Prior to that, at the 2022 US Open 2022, she refused to shake hands with former world number one Victoria Fyodarauna Azarenka, from Belarus, who had won the match, instead tapping rackets with her. She explained she would not shake hands because Azarenka had not condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It was my choice – I don’t feel like I don’t know any single person who condemned the war publicly, and the actions of their government, so I don’t feel like I can support this,” she told ESPN. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great competitor. But it has nothing to do with her being a human being.”
Azarenka said she would be willing to have a conversation with Kostyuk, asserting, “I’m open to any time to listen, to try to understand, to sympathize. I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important, which has, again, been my clear message in the beginning.”
Azarenka was removed from a USTA Peace for Ukraine event to raise funds for Ukraine after Kostyuk said she disapproved and pulled out. “It’s a no-brainer for me,” Azarenka said. “Like, why wouldn’t I participate in a humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now?”
Kostyuk has acknowledged she avoids speaking to Russian and Belarusian players on the tour, admitting, “I don’t really talk to anyone. I barely say hi to them.”
“I haven’t changed about the war and everything that’s going on, on tour,” she said. “Because people who just say they don’t want war, it makes us [Ukraine] sound like we want war. Obviously, we don’t want the war, too. … Whoever speaks out clearly I believe has every right to be on tour but whoever doesn’t… I don’t think it’s just humane.”