Elina Svitolina is the story of the 2023 French Open. Having missed her last four Grand Slams due to the birth of her first child, Svitolina made a spectacular return to the sport, with Svitolina on one of her favorite surfaces when she made a fourth quarter-final run at the French Open. But her script remained the same. The Ukrainian stumbled to a straight-sets defeat in a last-eight tie at the Stade Roland Garros on Tuesday with dominant Aryna Zabalenka. But while Svitolina can take more inspiration from her stunning run in Paris, she will surely want to forget the final ending regarding the antics of Zabalenka and the French Open crowd.
Svitolina took on a third Russian opponent in a much-anticipated match. Her stance was as clear as it has been from all Ukrainian players who have not shaken hands with players in Russia or Belarus since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Zabalenka of Belarus, meanwhile, was boycotted by the media after her last two matches at the French Open after being grilled about the war and her country’s involvement as a staging ground for Russian weapons and troops.
Svitolina was true to her words. No photo at the start of the match. There was not even an eye contact from her after the match. However, Zabalenka walked straight to the net expecting a handshake from Svitolina after her 6-4, 6-4 win, but the 28-year-old walked over to the chair umpire to shake hands before leaving the court. Soon a boo could be heard from the crowd.
Speaking to the media after the match, world no. 192 noted that Sabalenka was discredited for her “waiting at the net” act, which prompted the crowd to boo her.
“I don’t know what she is waiting for on the net because my statements were clear about the handshake. I was expecting boos and I’m not surprised. Did she inflame the situation on the stand with this? Unfortunately, I think so,” she said.
Before her match against Sabalenka, Svitolina, who donated her prize money to Ukrainian children’s charities after lifting the title in Strasbourg, her first title since 2021, had spoken about fighting for her country.
“When I go to court, I try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for freedom in Ukraine. I, too, am here fighting on my own front. I can’t be sad. I can’t be distracted in some ways. I will lose, you know. That’s why I remember being in Monterrey, Mexico, when the war started, and I was so sad. I cried when I entered the court. “I was really heavy,” she said.