Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus moved into a politically-charged French Open quarter-final with Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina on Sunday and immediately set the tone for the high-profile confrontation by boycotting Roland Garros media for a second time. Australian Open champion and world number two Sabalenka defeated Sloane Stephens 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 to reach the last eight in Paris for the first time. Tuesday’s clash will be the third meeting between Sabalenka and Svitolina but first since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow.
Svitolina has played two Russians so far at the tournament and refused to shake hands with both in protest at the war.
Sabalenka defeated Svitolina’s Ukrainian compatriot Marta Kostyuk in the opening round last weekend.
Kostyuk’s decision also not to shake hands brought her a chorus of boos from the Paris crowd. Kostyuk said the spectators who jeered her should be “embarrassed”.
After beating Stephens on Sunday, it was announced that for the second match in succession Sabalenka would not appear at a post-match news conference
She boycotted her last scheduled press conference on Friday after defeating Kamilla Rakhimova in the third round.
She claimed she “did not feel safe” when previously questioned about the war and her relationship with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko.
“Aryna Sabalenka will not be doing a general press conference tonight,” said the organisers in a statement.
“An interview with a WTA editorial reporter will be conducted shortly and transcribed and distributed.”
Not surprisingly, the delicate question of a Belarus v Ukraine clash was avoided in a bland, official handout provided by organisers.
Sabalenka limited her comments to her expectations for Tuesday’s match, pledging to show “my best tennis”.
After her first two rounds, Sabalenka had fended off a series of tough questions over her individual stance on the war as well as links to the government in Belarus.
– ‘No comments’ –
On Wednesday she was asked why in 2020 she “signed a letter to support Lukashenko” when “he was torturing and beating up protestors” in the street.
“I have no comments to you, so thank you for your question,” she replied.
Earlier, Svitolina, playing her first Grand Slam since becoming a mother, reached the quarter-finals for the fourth time.
The Ukrainian defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) for a seventh win in seven meetings against the Russian who was a semi-finalist last year.
Despite not shaking hands, Kasatkina still gave her rival a friendly thumbs-up.
Svitolina had described Kasatkina as “brave” for supporting the decision by British tennis authorities to provide all Ukrainian players with two hotel rooms throughout the forthcoming grass court season peaking at Wimbledon.
“Definitely I acknowledged the match today. Really thankful for her position that she took,” said Svitolina on Sunday.
“Yeah, she’s a really brave person to say it publicly, not so many players did.”
Svitolina said that she will not be shaking the hand of Sabalenka when they meet on Tuesday.