Aryna Sabalenka said on Friday that “it’s okay if she hates me” as the Belarusian star prepares to face her Ukrainian rival Marta Kostyuk in a very charged showdown at Roland Garros.
World number two Sabalenka knows that Kostyuk, a vocal critic of tennis authorities for their treatment of Russian players and their Belarusian allies in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine, will refuse to shake hands after their first-round match at Roland Garros.
“If she hates me, fine. I can’t do anything about it,” Sabalenka, 25, said.
“There will be people who love me, there will be people who hate me. If she hates me, I don’t feel that way for her.”
Kostyuk refused to shake hands with two-time Belarusian Grand Slam champion and former world number one Victoria Azarenka at the US Open in New York last year.
They agreed to touch rackets instead at the net at the end of the game.
“If I could, I would stop the war,” said Australian Open champion Sabalenka.
“And about the ban on shaking, I can kind of understand them. I imagine if they go and shake hands with Russians and Belarusians, they’ll get so many messages from their home country.
“So I kind of understand why they don’t. At the same time, I feel like sport shouldn’t be in politics. Like we’re just athletes. If they feel well without shaking hands, I’m happy with that.”
Sabalenka beat Kostyuk in Dubai in February 2022, just a week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Last week in Rome, Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina refused to shake hands with Veronika Kudermetova after beating the Russian in the semi-finals.