Azarenka: No shake was respect for Svitolina

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Following a lack of handshake at the net in her 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9) fourth-round loss to Elina Svitolina at Wimbledon on Sunday, former world No. 1 and two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka was loudly booed by the crowd at No. 1 Court as she walked off.

Both Azarenka and Svitolina said in their separate postmatch news conferences the reaction stemmed from a misunderstanding by those in the stands.

Svitolina, a Ukrainian, has publicly and repeatedly said she will not shake hands with players from Russia or Belarus due to the ongoing invasion of her home country.

Azarenka, who is from Belarus, said she was accepting of Svitolina’s decision and followed her lead at the end of the match. She did give a congratulatory wave from her chair to Svitolina.

“What can I say about the crowd,” Azarenka said. “There is nothing to say. She doesn’t want to shake hands with Russian, Belarusian people. I respected her decision. What should I have done? Stayed and waited? Like, I mean, there’s no thing that I could do that would have been right, so I just did what I thought was respectful towards her decision.”

She added she believed many people in the crowd were previously unaware of Svitolina’s stance and suggested alcohol could have played a role in the hostility as well.

Azarenka had banged her clenched fists together in response to the crowd as she exited the court and later said the gesture didn’t have any specific meaning.

“I don’t know,” she said when asked what it meant. “I have no idea. I won’t even be able to duplicate what I did.”

Svitolina said she also has received angry responses from crowds due to the lack of handshakes, including during last month’s French Open, and encouraged the tournaments to help educate those in attendance about why there was no such meeting at the net following matches between players from Ukraine and those from Russia and Belarus.

“I think the tennis organizations, they have to come out with a statement that there will be no handshake between Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian players,” Svitolina said. “I don’t know if it’s maybe not clear for people. Some people not really know what is happening. So I think this is the right way to do [it].”

Svitolina said the crowd might have reacted similarly to her if had she lost the match.

Playing in just her second major since returning from maternity leave in April, Svitolina advanced to her second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal. She will next face world No. 1 Iga Swiatek on Tuesday with a spot in her second career Wimbledon semifinal on the line.

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