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Sabalenka seeks handshake from Svitolina at French Open; faces press.

Sabalenka seeks handshake from Svitolina at French Open; faces press.

Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka reached her first-ever French Open semifinal by defeating Elina Svitolina and then leaning in for a handshake. However, Svitolina avoided the traditional post-match greeting, which is something she and other Ukrainian players have done after facing opponents from Russia or Belarus. Sabalenka, aware of the situation, claimed she approached the net out of instinct but still faced boos from some in the crowd who misinterpreted Svitolina’s reaction as a breach of tennis etiquette rather than a conscious decision not to shake hands. Sabalenka will face unseeded Karolina Muchova in Thursday’s semifinals.

Sabalenka had skipped two standard press conferences before returning on Tuesday due to concerns over her mental health and well-being regarding questions about Belarus and Ukraine. She expressed feeling disrespected and like the occasion had “become a political TV show.” One of the topics of earlier news conferences, her relationship with Belarus’s authoritarian leader President Alexander Lukashenko, was also raised again but, Sabalenka clarified that she does not support the ongoing conflict in the region.

Svitolina had become a fan favorite during the tournament due to her return after nearly a year and a half break from tennis while having a baby. Svitolina, married to French player Gael Monfils, was not surprised by the boos and thought it was unfair that Sabalenka went unpunished for refusing to meet with journalists, unlike Naomi Osaka who was fined and eventually withdrew from the French Open two years ago. Svitolina emphasized that she has always been vocal about her strong beliefs and position for her country and would not betray them to gain people’s approval.

© 2020 CANDOUR

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