LONDON (Reuters) – Victory or defeat, Victoria Azarenka knew Ukrainian rival Elina Svitolina would not shake hands at the end of the Wimbledon competition billed as a ‘battle of the mothers’.
What the Belarusian didn’t expect was being booed off the field after doing her part in entertaining the Court One crowd for almost three hours in a thrilling match that saw a match tiebreak in the third set was required to determine the winner.
A confused Azarenka was confused and shook her head as she struggled to understand why the crowd had suddenly turned hostile to her.
After stopping abruptly to face the cheering fans, she slammed both fists above her head and exited the arena, the boos still ringing in her ears.
Azarenka called the reaction “unfair” and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. She realized that the audience might not know why she didn’t shake hands with Svitolina at the end of the fourth round match.
Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which saw Moscow use Belarus as a base for a so-called ‘special military operation’, Svitolina has maintained her stance of not shaking hands with players from either country.
Asked at a press conference if she felt like she was being bullied by the crowd, Azarenka snapped, “Victims? Victim of someone not shaking my hand? Please. I think we’ve grown…
“I can’t control the crowd. I’m not sure a lot of people understood what was happening, so… There were probably a lot of Pimms throughout the day.”
No matter how harshly she felt treated by the crowd, she refused to blame Svitolina for her predicament.
“I have known Elina for a very long time. I’ve always had a good relationship with her. And the circumstances are what it is, and that’s it,” said Azarenka, who appeared for her press conference and hid her eyes behind dark sunglasses.
“I haven’t done anything wrong, but I’m always treated differently sometimes.
“She does not want to shake hands with the Russian and Belarusian people. I respected her decision. What should I have done? stayed and waited?
“There’s nothing I could do that would have been right, so I just did what I felt was respectful of their decision. But this conversation about shaking hands isn’t a life-changing conversation.”
While it seemed everyone was just focused on the events that unfolded after Svitolina secured her place in the last eight with an ace, Azarenka felt the duel on the pitch deserved more praise.
“I thought it was a great tennis match. When people just focus on handshakes or a pretty drunk crowd that ends up being booed, that’s a shame,” she said.
Svitolina believed that such situations could be avoided if the tournament organizers made it clear to fans in a statement that “there will be no handshake between Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian players”.
“Some people don’t really know what’s happening. So I think this is the right way,” said the Ukrainian.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, Editing by Christian Radnedge)