Sports

July 10, 2023

Wimbledon: Azarenka booed for failing to shake Svitolina after defeat

Wimbledon: Azarenka booed for failing to shake Svitolina after defeat

Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka leaves after being beaten by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina during their women’s singles tennis match on the seventh day of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 9, 2023. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

Victoria Azarenka blasted the Wimbledon crowd as “unfair” and “drunk” after she was booed off Centre Court following her defeat to Elina Svitolina in a politically charged clash on Sunday.

Ukraine’s Svitolina came through 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (11/9) after two hours and 46 minutes of thrilling shotmaking on Court One to set up a quarter-final clash with world number one Iga Swiatek.

As has become a common feature, Svitolina did not shake hands with Belarusian Azarenka in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow.

Azarenka, who held her hand up in the direction of Svitolina, seemingly in a gesture of respect, left the court to the sound of boos.

“It wasn’t fair. It is what it is. What can I do?” said Azarenka.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, but I can’t control the crowd. I’m not sure that a lot of people were understanding what’s happening.

“But if people are going to be focusing only on handshakes or a quite drunk crowd, booing in the end, that’s a shame.”

Svitolina and her fellow Ukraine players all refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian rivals at the recent French Open.

Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk were jeered by the Paris crowd for their stance after losing to Belarusian world number two Aryna Sabalenka.

At the US Open last year, Kostyuk offered only a racquet touch following her defeat to Azarenka.

Svitolina believes the booing could be stopped if tennis authorities issue a statement explaining the position of Ukraine players.

– ‘Victory for Ukraine’ –

“It was like this for me in Paris. It was also unfair,” said Svitolina.

“I already said multiple times that until Russian troops are out of Ukraine and we take back our territories, we are not going to shake hands. So I have a clear statement.”

Despite the controversy, Svitolina described victory as the “second happiest moment” of her life after the birth of her daughter.

“I think after giving birth to our daughter this is the second-happiest moment in my life,” said Svitolina, who is married to French tennis star Gael Monfils.

“When I was down I heard you guys cheering for me and I almost wanted to cry.”

Svitolina, a semi-finalist in 2019, was 4/7 down in the final-set tiebreak and only three points from defeat.

However, she clawed her way back, saw one match point slip away at 9/8 before sealing victory with an ace.

“I know that a lot of people back home are watching, supporting me. I feel responsibility, as well,” she added.

“When I play against Russians, Belarusians, I feel more pressure that I need to win. That’s why it means a lot to get these kinds of wins. In my own way, to bring this victory, small victory, to Ukraine.”

Svitolina, 28, only returned to the tour in April after maternity leave.

She has now reached the last eight of successive majors after also making the quarter-finals of the French Open.

“When I started playing again I didn’t think that I would be here. I didn’t think on the grass I would play that good,” she added.

“I’m just really enjoying the atmosphere, this chance. I’m really thankful for the chance to play here.”

On the court on Sunday, 76th-ranked Svitolina served up a love game to start the match but Azarenka then broke in the third and fifth games to pocket the first set.

The former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion broke again in the first game of the second set.

Svitolina pulled herself level for 2-2 but was then unable to convert four break points in the eighth game.

In a tense, big-hitting conclusion, Azarenka saved a set point but Svitolina pounced on the second to level the contest.

Svitolina raced to a 3-0 lead in the decider, helped by an Azarenka double fault in the second game.

Back came the Belarusian to break back in the fifth game as the tie headed to its dramatic tiebreak and post-match conclusion.