Between these two, there is only the scorching sun on Court Philippe-Chatrier that could warm the atmosphere. It's 14:46 p.m. on June 6 and the quarterfinal of the women's draw between Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka has just ended. The second won 6-4, 6-4 in just over 90 minutes of duel. At the end, Sabalenka waits in the middle of the court, his hands on the net to greet his opponent. Svitolina turns her head away, walks past with her head down and runs to her chair. At the same time, it provokes the whistles of the center court. Yes, whistles when we expected the opposite: massive support for his lack of courtesy. Before the game, the two players also did not share a photo at the net. "I don't know why she was waiting," the Ukrainian said after the game. My statements were very clear about the handshake. In response, the Belarusian will explain: "I don't know. It was just instinct like I always do after all my games."
Aryna Sabalenka, the tournament's No. 2 seed, is Belarusian, from a country allied with Russia in the war in Ukraine. But it was Elina Svitolina the Ukrainian who was booed by a large part of the central audience. "It surprised me too," notes Juliette crossed at the exit of the Chatrier. I thought everyone would gang up against Sabalenka for political reasons Obviously, that was not the case. People greeted the player, by the representative of a political regime. Since the beginning of the tournament, Sabalenka has had to answer the question "Do you support your regime at war with Ukraine? She kicked in touch at the beginning of the tournament ("no one in this world, and this includes Russian and Belarusian athletes, supports this war") before twice declining the mandatory passage in front of the media.
"I'm just a tennis player, not a political activist"
She confessed that she did not "feel safe during her previous press conference." "I felt like a journalist was trying to put words in my mouth," she says. I didn't feel comfortable. On Tuesday, she faced the international press and therefore also Ukrainian. "Why didn't I come before you after the last two rounds? she said in a packed room. I didn't feel the strength, I slept badly and I didn't want my press conferences to turn into political meetings. I say it and I say it again: I am only a 25-year-old tennis player, not a political activist or a representative of the regime of my country. I am against war and all forms of violence. I don't support the war, which means I don't support Lukashenko right now. How can I say it more clearly? I'm in the semi-finals of Roland Garros and I just want to stay focused on my game. In Belarus, citizens who criticize the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenko are putting themselves at risk.
🎾 #RolandGarros | Eliminated in the quarterfinals by Aryna Sabalenka, the Ukrainian Elina Svitolina leaves without shaking hands with her Belarusian opponent.
▶ Follow the matches live 👉 https://t.co/t9JlILNPon pic.twitter.com/2TLCvIcVYn
— francetvsport (@francetvsport) June 6, 2023
During the game, the world number 2 received some encouragement, "Go Sabalenka" coming down from the stands. Gaël Monfils' partner obviously received support as well. We noticed some Ukrainian flags in the stadium, rather big pocket handkerchiefs by the way. At the entrance, spectators with large yellow and blue flags in the colors of Ukraine were forced to abandon them. Officially because of their size, not their political message. Here is the explanation of the organizers: "The internal rules of the stadium provide, in addition to the fact that spectators must avoid bringing by their attitude, their dress or their words, any disturbance whatsoever to the smooth running of the tournament, that it is forbidden to display or exhibit any symbol likely to have a political message. (...) In all cases, flags with the largest edge greater than 100 cm are prohibited. »
No distinctive Russian or Belarusian signs are allowed either in the Roland-Garros enclosure, which nevertheless accepts players from these two countries. If Aryna Sabalenka wins Saturday in the final, which is quite possible, she will not have the right to her anthem. For a place in the final, Sabalenka will face Czech Karolina Muchova (43rd) on Thursday, who beat Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-2 earlier in the day. This time, there will be no question of avoiding the handshake.