Spectators at the Washington Open were told before Ukraine`s Elina Svitolina defeated Belarus` Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (2), 6-4 night that the players would not shake hands when their first-round match ended.
During the war in Ukraine, Svitolina, like several other players from her country, has declined to participate in the usual meeting at the net with opponents from Russia or Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine with the help of Belarus in February 2022 and fighting continues.
When Svitolina wrapped up her victory Monday, both she and Azarenka walked straight toward the sideline to acknowledge the chair umpire. Folks in the stands applauded; a few waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags.
At other recent tournaments, some fans `seemingly unaware of the background` booed Ukrainian players for not participating in the customary handshake. After losing to Svitolina at Wimbledon, it was Azarenka who was jeered loudly for not going up to the net herself, even though she did so because she knew Svitolina would not want to shake hands.
Svitolina, who made it to the Wimbledon semifinals just three months after returning from maternity leave, said at the time that she thought it would make sense for tournaments to start informing fans about the situation; the All England Club said it would not do that.
But Svitolina said she was assured by WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that there would be a message delivered to the crowd in Washington before her match against Azarenka, and there was.
“It`s the right thing,” Svitolina said. “I asked for the WTA to respect the decision of Ukrainians. And they did.”
The scoreboards read: “At the conclusion of the match, there will be no handshake between the players. We appreciate your respect for both athletes during and following the match, and for your understanding during these difficult circumstances.”
The message was shown after the first set, too.
“I don`t care. I mean, how long are we going to talk about that, really? Is that a big story? Is this interesting for people to keep writing the same thing over and over again?” said Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion and former No. 1-ranked player.
Azarenka added that she thought that sort of explanation for fans arrived “about `how many?` 18 months too late.”
The WTA has not yet decided whether to tell all tournaments to post a similar message before any match involving a player from Ukraine against one from Russia or Belarus.
In earlier action on Day 1 at the first combined ATP-WTA 500 event, defending champion Liudmila Samsonova stretched her winning streak in Washington to six matches by beating 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins 6-1, 6-3.
The eighth-seeded Samsonova saved both break points she faced while winning four of Collins` service games. Collins hurt herself by double-faulting eight times.
Samsonova is a 24-year-old from Russia who is currently ranked 18th. Her trophy on the hard courts of the U.S. Open tune-up tournament a year ago was one of four singles titles she`s won.
In other women`s matches, Lauren Davis eliminated 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 7-6 (8), 3-6, 6-1, sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic advanced when Anastasia Potapova retired in the first set with an injured left ankle, and Marta Kostyuk beat 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Sofia Kenin, the Australian Open champion and French Open runner-up in 2019, withdrew from the DC Open because of an injured left thigh and was replaced in the field by Peyton Stearns, who lost in qualifying.
In men`s action, Mackenzie McDonald eliminated Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, Aslan Karatsev beat Kiranpal Pannu 7-6 (3), 6-1, Alexander Shevchenko defeated Maxime Cressy 6-3, 7-6 (8), Michael Mmoh beat Bradley Klahn 6-3, 6-3, and Yosuke Watanuki moved into the second round when Wu Yibing stopped playing because of illness.
(With agency inputs)