French Open: Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk says crowd ‘should be embarrassed’ for booing her
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus (left) and Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine before their French Open first round match./Getty
Unable to sleep the night before her first-round match at the French Open against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the Grand Slam tournament’s No. 2 seed, Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine checked her phone at 5 a.m. Sunday and saw disturbing news back home in Kyiv.
At least one person was killed when the capital of Kostyuk’s country was subjected to the largest drone attack by Russia since the start of its war, launched with an invasion assisted by Belarus in February 2022.
“It’s something I cannot describe, probably. I try to put my emotions aside any time I go out on court. I think I’m better than before, and I don’t think it affects me as much on a daily basis, but yeah, it’s just — I don’t know,” Kostyuk said, shaking her head. “There is not much to say, really. It’s just part of my life.”
That, then, is why Kostyuk has decided she will not exchange the usual postmatch pleasantries with opponents from Russia or Belarus. And that is why she avoided a handshake — avoided any eye contact, even — after losing to Australian Open champion Sabalenka 6-3, 6-2 on Day 1 at Roland Garros.
What surprised the 20-year-old, 39th-ranked Kostyuk on Sunday was the reaction she received from the spectators in Court Philippe Chatrier: They loudly booed and derisively whistled at her as she walked directly over to acknowledge the chair umpire instead of congratulating the winner after the lopsided result. The negative response grew louder as she gathered her belongings and walked off the court toward the locker room.
“I have to say,” Kostyuk said, “I didn’t expect it. … People should be, honestly, embarrassed.”
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Kostyuk is based now in Monaco, and her mother and sister are there, too, but her father and grandfather are still in Kyiv. Perhaps the fans on hand at the clay-court event’s main stadium were unaware of the backstory and figured Kostyuk simply failed to follow usual tennis etiquette.
Initially, Sabalenka — who had approached the net as if anticipating some sort of exchange with Kostyuk — thought the noise was directed at her.
“At first, I thought they were booing me,” Sabalenka said. “I was a little confused, and I was, like, ’OK, what should I do?”
Sabalenka tried to ask the chair umpire what was going on. She looked up at her entourage in the stands, too. Then she realized that while she is aware Kostyuk and other Ukrainian tennis players have been declining to greet opponents from Russia or Belarus after a match, the spectators might not have known — and so responded in a way Sabalenka didn’t think was deserved.
“They saw it,” she surmised, “as disrespect (for) me.”
All in all, if the tennis itself was not particularly memorable, the whole scene, including the lack of the customary prematch photo of the players following the coin toss, became the most noteworthy development on Day 1 in Paris.
The highest-seeded player to go home was No. 7 Maria Sakkari, who lost 7-6 (5), 7-5 to 42nd-ranked Karolina Muchova in what wasn’t necessarily that momentous of an upset. Both have been major semifinalists, and Muchova has won her past four Slam matches against players ranked in the top 10 — including beating Sakkari at the French Open last year. Also out: No. 21 Magda Linette, a semifinalist at the Australian Open, who was beat 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 by 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez, and No. 29 Zhang Shuai.
The first seeded man to bow out was No. 20 Dan Evans, eliminated 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 by wild-card entry Thanasi Kokkinakis. No. 11 Karen Khachanov, a semifinalist at the past two majors, came all the way back after dropping the opening two sets to beat Constant Lestienne, a French player once banned for gambling, by a 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 score in front of a boisterous crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen. Two-time Slam finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas came within a point of being forced to a fifth set, too, but got past Jiri Vesely 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7). No. 24 Sebastian Korda, who missed three months after hurting his wrist at the Australian Open, was a straight-set winner in an all-American matchup against Mackenzie McDonald, the last player to face — and beat — Rafael Nadal. The 14-time French Open champion has been sidelined with a hip injury since that match in January.
Sabalenka called Sunday “emotionally tough” — because of mundane, tennis-related reasons, such as the nerves that come with any first-round match, but more significantly because of the unusual circumstances involving the war.
“You’re playing against (a) Ukrainian and you never know what’s going to happen. You never know how people will — will they support you or not?” explained Sabalenka, who went down an early break and trailed 3-2 before reeling off six consecutive games with powerful first-strike hitting. “I was worried, like, people will be against me, and I don’t like to play when people (are) so much against me.”
A journalist from Ukraine asked Sabalenka what her message to the world is with regard to the war, particularly in this context: She can overtake Iga Swiatek at No. 1 in the rankings based on results over the next two weeks and, therefore, serves as a role model.
“Nobody in this world, Russian athletes or Belarusian athletes, support the war. Nobody. How can we support the war? Nobody — normal people — will never support it. Why (do) we have to go loud and say that things? This is like: ‘One plus one (is) two.’ Of course we don’t support war,” Sabalenka said. “If it could affect anyhow the war, if it could like stop it, we would do it. But unfortunately, it’s not in our hands.”
When a portion of those comments was read to Kostyuk by a reporter, she responded in calm, measured tones that she doesn’t get why Sabalenka does not come out and say that “she personally doesn’t support this war.”
Kostyuk also rejected the notion that players from Russia or Belarus could be in a tough spot upon returning to those countries if they were to speak out about what is happening in Ukraine.
“I don’t know why it’s a difficult situation,” Kostyuk said with a chuckle.
“I don’t know what other players are afraid of,” she said. “I go back to Ukraine, where I can die any second from drones or missiles or whatever it is.”
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Ryan Crouser breaks world record in shot put at Los Angeles Grand Prix
Two-time Olympic champion Ryan Crouser registered one of the greatest performances in track and field history, breaking his world record and throwing three of the six farthest shot puts of all time at the Los Angeles Grand Prix on Saturday.
Crouser unleashed throws of 23.56 meters, 23.31 and 23.23 at UCLA’s Drake Stadium. His previous world record from the Tokyo Olympic Trials was 23.37. He now owns the top four throws in history, and the 23.23 is tied for the fifth-best throw in history.
“The best thing is I’m still on high volume [training], heavy throws in the ring and heavy weights in the weight room, so we’re just starting to work in some speed,” the 6-foot-7 Crouser, who is perfecting a new technique coined the “Crouser slide,” told Lewis Johnson on NBC.
Sha’Carri Richardson won her 100m heat in 10.90 seconds into a slight headwind, then did not start the final about 90 minutes later due to cramping, Johnson said. Richardson is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100m in 2023 (10.76) and No. 2 in the 200m (22.07).
Jamaican Ackeem Blake won the men’s 100m in a personal best 9.89 seconds. He now ranks third in the world this year behind Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala and American Fred Kerley, who meet in the Diamond League in Rabat, Morocco on Sunday (2-4 p.m. ET, CNBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock).
The next major meet is the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in early July, when the top three in most individual events qualify for August’s world championships.
Richardson will bid to make her first global championships team, two years after having her Olympic Trials win stripped for testing positive for marijuana and one year after being eliminated in the first round of the 100m at USATF Outdoors.
LA GRAND PRIX: Full Results
Also Saturday, Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico won the 100m hurdles in 12.31, the fastest time ever this early in a year. Nigerian Tobi Amusan, who at last July’s worlds lowered the world record to 12.12, was eighth in the eight-woman field in 12.69.
Maggie Ewen upset world champion Chase Ealey in the shot put by throwing 20.45 meters, upping her personal best by more than three feet. Ewen went from 12th-best in American history to third behind 2016 Olympic champion Michelle Carter and Ealey.
Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic ran the fastest women’s 400m since the Tokyo Olympics, clocking 48.98 seconds. Paulino is the Olympic and world silver medalist. Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on a maternity break.
Rio Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy won the 800m in 1:44.75, beating a field that included most of the top Americans in the event. Notably absent was 2019 World champion Donovan Brazier, who hasn’t raced since July 20 of last year amid foot problems.
CJ Allen won the 400m hurdles in a personal best 47.91, consolidating his argument as the second-best American in the event behind Olympic and world silver medalist Rai Benjamin, who withdrew from the meet earlier this week.
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