Tennis-Sabalenka prevails, Kostyuk urges stronger anti-war stance after French Open boos


  • Tennis
  • Sunday, 28 May 2023

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - May 28, 2023 The umpire is seen during the coin toss before the first round match between Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka and Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

PARIS (Reuters) -The famously fickle Paris crowd made themselves heard on the opening day of the French Open, booing when Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk refused to shake hands after her first-round defeat by Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus on Sunday.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the runner-up in Paris in 2021, was later dragged into a dogfight by Czech Jiri Vesely before he advanced in four sets and seeds Karen Khachanov and Hubert Hurkacz also battled their way into the second round.

Kostyuk had warned she would not shake hands with Russian and Belarusian players due to Moscow's invasion of its neighbour Ukraine and she kept her word on a sun-kissed court Philippe Chatrier after losing 6-3 6-2 to world number two Sabalenka.

Sabalenka, who initially thought the boos were for her, theatrically bowed to supporters before thanking them for their backing and later said she understood Kostyuk's choice to skip the customary gesture.

She added that the Ukrainian did not deserve to leave the main showcourt in the manner she did but Kostyuk urged Sabalenka to take a stronger and more personal stand against the war.

"She (Sabalenka) never says that she personally doesn't support this war, and I feel like journalists should change the questions you ask these athletes because the war is already there," Kostyuk said.

"It's been 15 months since the war has begun."

Greek fifth seed Tsitsipas was made to work hard by Vesely, who is on the comeback trail following a lengthy injury absence, before winning 7-5 6-3 4-6 7-6(7).

"I said to myself there's no chance this is going to a fifth set," said Tsitsipas. "Jiri was a difficult obstacle. He gave me a hard time and I'm happy I overcame it in such a fashion."

Russian Khachanov defeated local favourite Constant Lestienne 3-6 1-6 6-2 6-1 6-3 and the 11th seed was joined in the second round by Polish 13th seed Hurkacz who battled past David Goffin 6-3 5-7 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis pulled off an upset by downing British 20th seed Dan Evans 6-4 6-4 6-4. Monte Carlo champion Andrey Rublev, the seventh seed, overcame a mid-match wobble to beat Laslo Djere 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-4.

SAKKARI CRASHES

Eighth seed Maria Sakkari became an early casualty on Court Suzanne Lenglen as she fell 7-6(5) 7-5 to Karolina Muchova, who also beat the Greek player in straight sets at last year's tournament.

Third seed Jessica Pegula was in no mood for any adventures and cruised into the next round with a 6-4 6-2 win over fellow American Danielle Collins.

Canadian Leylah Fernandez downed 21st seed Magda Linette 6-3 1-6 6-3 while Poland's Magdalena Frech sent 29th seed Zhang Shuai packing after a 6-1 6-1 victory.

Earlier, spectators lined up in huge numbers under panama hats and umbrellas as the year's second Grand Slam tournament began in bright sunshine.

After a record 50,000 people - compared to 29,000 last year - attended the qualifying event, fashionably late fans queued to get their seats despite temperatures reaching 27 degrees Celsius in the afternoon, with water vending stands busy all day.

There will be an unfamiliar feel to this year's tournament, with holder and 14-times winner Rafa Nadal out injured.

"Of course, it's a big miss. My son wanted to see Nadal but now we will be supporting (Carlos) Alcaraz," said Gerald Furst, who runs a tennis club in the south of France.

"I like (Novak) Djokovic as well, he's an amazing player. I believe it'll be a semi-final between Alcaraz and Djokovic. We want to see this match."

Serbian Djokovic, who is bidding for his third French Open title and a men's record 23rd major crown, takes on Aleksandar Kovacevic on Monday. Spanish top seed Alcaraz will also be in action against Flavio Cobolli.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot and Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by Ed Osmond, Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)

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