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No handshake, boos from a “drunk crowd” and the guilty Pimm’s: “It was unfair”

Victoria Azarenka
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LONDON – The handshake at the net. That gesture that is taught from a young age in tennis schools as a sign of respect for the opponent that cannot be negotiated, whether the match has gone one way or the other. But in today’s world, with a war going on, the Ukrainians have made it clear. “Until Russian troops leave Ukraine and we get our territories back, we will not shake hands (with Russian and Ukrainian tennis players),” says Elina Svitolina.

The former world No. 3 defeated Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) in the round of 16 at Wimbledon, and as seen on several stages of the tour, she did not shake hands with her opponent. It was Azarenka who walked straight to her chair and offered her a look of approval and a wave from a distance, replicated by Elina Svitolina. Both respect each other’s careers and do not take the political situation personally.

At that point, some boos were heard on Court 1 of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, but they were drowned out by the euphoric shouts of the crowd that always cheered for Svitolina. But when the Belarusian grabbed her bag and walked quickly to the exit of the court, the crowd’s outcry intensified.

Azarenka, annoyed, stopped her march and looked with gestures of disbelief at the stands. Then, before leaving, she raised her hands and clenched her fists. She would later explain at the press conference: “I have no idea what I meant by that. I couldn’t even repeat it because I don’t even remember.”

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Azarenka’s gesture while being booed on Court 1 // BBC SPORTS CAPTURE

What is certain, is that the crowd’s reaction was unfair, after almost three hours of match at a high level. “How do you think it was what the crowd did? Unfair? Yes, I think so too. She (Svitolina) doesn’t want to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian people, I respect her decision. What could I have done, stand and wait? It was a great tennis match and that’s it. People were drunk. Probably too many Pimm’s,” she told a press conference.

Elina Svitolina calls for tennis bodies to play an educating role: “I think tennis organizations have to come out with a statement that there will be no handshake between Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian players. I don’t know if maybe it’s not clear to people. Some people don’t really know what’s going on. So I think this is the right way to do it.”

Similar situation in Paris happened when in the quarterfinals Svitolina did not shake hands with Aryna Sabalenka, who stood waiting at the net. The French crowd that time on Court Phillippe Chatrier directed the boos at her despite the fact that she had the support of the them throughout her campaign (her husband is Frenchman Gael Monfils).

“Would it have been a different reaction today if I had lost? I don’t know,” she told the media.

Just like in London, people don’t seem to understand that there is a war going on not many thousands of miles away from where the tennis is played. Either there are too many purists who place too much importance on a handshake, rather than the effort of a match.

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Or, the answer lies in the glasses with the popular English drink. And there’s no way around it.

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