Victoria Azarenka's pointed swipe as officials take action over Elina Svitolina storm

More than 18 months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Victoria Azarenka has praised a belated move from tennis officials.

Victoria Azarenka is pictured left, with the D.C. Open's message to fans highlighted on the right.
Victoria Azarenka says the decision from tennis officials to inform spectators at the D.C. Open that she and Elina Svitolina would not shake hands after their match in light of te ongoing invasion of Ukraine as '18 months too late'. Pictures: Getty Images/Twitter

Weeks after Wimbledon fans booed Victoria Azarenka during her fourth round loss to Elina Svitolina, the sequel at the DC Open featured a notable addition - a warning to the crowd that there would be no meeting at the net between the pair after the match. Ukrainian star Svitolina - winner over Azarenka at both Wimbledon and Washington, declined to shake the hand of her Belarusian opponent in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been endorsed by Belarus.

The All-England club had booed Azarenka throughout the clash with Svitolina, a situation the organisers of the DC Open were clearly aware of heading into their rematch. As such, following the first set a message was shown on a big screen at the venue, reminding spectators of the situation.

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It was a solution long overdue according to Azarenka, with the two-time Australian Open champion suggesting it was a move that came '18 months too late'. Svitolina has declined to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents since the invasion began in 2022.

"At the conclusion of the match there will be no handshake between the players," a message on an arena screen said beforehand. "We appreciate your respect for both athletes during and following the match, and for your understanding during these difficult circumstances."

Azarenka was at the centre of the widely-criticised boos at Wimbledon, given that as a tennis player she is quite obviously not responsible for the actions of her government. Many professional players, such as Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev of Russia, have said publicly that they do not support Russia's invasion.

Crucial change after Azarenka booed at Wimbledon

Last year Russian and Belarusian players were banned from Wimbledon, leading to the tournament being stripped of ranking points by the ATP and WTA. That ban was lifted for 2023, however the actions of spectators lead Azarenka to suggest after their match earlier this year that 'too much Pimms' had been drunk be spectators, that that she respected Svitolina's decision not to shake hands.

“I’m not sure a lot of people understood what was happening," Azarenka said at Wimbledon. “There has probably been a lot of Pimm’s throughout the day.

"If people are going to focus only on handshakes or a drunk crowd booing in the end, it’s a shame. She doesn’t want to shake hands with Russian, Belarusian people. I respected her decision.

"What should I have done? Nothing would have been right, so I just did what I thought was respectful towards her decision.”

Elina Svitolina.
Elina Svitolina defeated Victoria Azarenka in straight sets at the D.C. Open. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With the handshake issue settled at the DC Open, it was left to the two rivals to serve up a hard-fought if error-strewn battle that saw no fewer than 17 breaks of serve before Svitolina finally prevailed 7-6 (7/2), 6-4. Svitolina clinched victory by breaking Azarenka's serve in the 10th game of the second set.

A wild Azarenka backhand presented Svitolina with a match point which she duly converted on the first attempt after bludgeoning a forehand winner into the corner. Azarenka saluted Svitolina's victory with a fleeting thumbs up before heading off the court.

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