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US Open 2022: Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk declines handshake with Belarus' Victoria Azarenka

The coldest end to a match at the US Open came at Court 17 on Thursday, where Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3.

As the second-round match concluded, Kostyuk approached the net and only offered her racket to the celebrating Azarenka, who obliged with a quick tap with her own racket before the pair shook hands with the chair umpire.

It was a quick moment, but a prime example of how the war in Ukraine is still being felt in the sports world.

Kostyuk, ranked No. 65 in the world, has been outspoken about the war in Ukraine, in which Belarus has closely allied with Russia in an unprovoked attack on their neighbor, and a perceived silence from the Russian and Ukrainian players on the tour.

That has included friction with Azarenka, who was removed from the USTA's Peace for Ukraine event last week after Kostyuk expressed discomfort with her participation.

Kostyuk and Azarenka explain US Open awkwardness

Per British outlet i, Kostyuk said after the match that she tried to reach out to Azarenka, but the former world No. 1 had already left Flushing Meadows:

“I genuinely wanted to warn her that I’m not gonna shake her hand, because she never came up to me, at least personally, and didn’t tell me her opinion, and what she thinks so… it didn’t happen. So I don’t think I’ll go up to her and try to have a conversation.”

She added: “I just don’t think [shaking her hand is] the right thing to do in the circumstances I’m in right now. I don’t know. It was just my choice.

“We had a great match, don’t get me wrong. She’s a great competitor, I respect her as an athlete but that has nothing to do with her [as] a human being.”

Kostyuk is a Kyiv native who still has friends and family living in Ukraine, which is in its seventh month of trying to push back Russian and Belarusian forces.

Sep 1, 2022; Flushing, NY, USA; Victoria Azarenka (left) greets Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine after their second round match on day four of the 2022 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Victoria Azarenka and Marta Kostyuk had an awkward end to their second-round match at the US Open. (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

For her part, Azarenka told reporters after the match she had reached out to the WTA to have conversations with Ukrainian athletes but was rebuffed. She said she never had a close relationship with Kostyuk, but sent messages of support to other Ukrainian players she knew in March and would be willing to meet face-to-face with Kostyuk.

She also said she has quietly offered aid to those affected:

"I feel like I've had a very clear message from the beginning, that I'm here to try to help, which I have done a lot. Maybe not something that people see. And that's not what I do it for. I do it for people who [are] in need, juniors who need clothes, other people who need money or other people who needed transportation or whatever. That's what is important to me, to help people are in need.

"If Marta wants to speak with me — like she texted me yesterday, I replied — I'm open any time to listen, to try to understand, to empathize. I believe that empathy in the moment like this is really important, which has, again, been my clear message in the beginning. I'm going to stand by that because what's happening in the world is very difficult right now, but we shouldn't forget we're all human and we should treat each other that way."

Azarenka, who called for peace soon after Russia's invasion, was one of several Russian and Belarusian players to be banned from Wimbledon in response to the war.

She also fired back on Kostyuk's claim that she hadn't used her voice on the WTA players' council to condemn the war enough ("With all due respect, I don't think she has any idea of what I do on the player council because she's not there") and expressed confusion as to why she was booted from the Peace for Ukraine event:

"I [was] called by that USTA and asked if I would be participating. It's a no-brainer for me. Like, why wouldn't I participate in a humanitarian aid for people who are really struggling right now? It's not even a thought for me at that moment.

When you're asking 'You're not doing enough, you're not saying enough,' I thought that this was a gesture that really shows commitment. I'm not sure why it wasn't taken that way.

Azarenka is scheduled to face Petra Martić in the third round on Saturday.