PARIS — Unable to sleep the night before her first-round match at the French Open against No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 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.”
“I just don’t respect her,” Kostyuk added at a press conference afterward.
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 lost 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez, and No. 29 Zhang Shuai.