On August 30th, 2023, the US Open witnessed a dramatic event as Maryna Zanevska, a Ukraine-born Belgian tennis player, played her last career match against Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarusian player. The match ended with Zanevska losing to Sabalenka with a score of 3-6, 2-6. However, the highlight of the event was not the game itself but what transpired after it.
Zanevska, who had announced her retirement due to chronic back issues, refused to shake hands with Sabalenka post-match. This act was seen as a gesture of solidarity with her birth country, Ukraine.
It’s worth noting that several Ukrainian players have been snubbing post-game handshakes with opponents from Russia or Belarus since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, given that Belarus is a key military ally of Russia.
US OPEN 2023, Day 3: Order of Play
Zanevska justified her actions by stating that she has a family fighting against Russia in Ukraine. She expressed her respect for Sabalenka as a tennis player and acknowledged her achievements in the sport.
However, she accused Sabalenka of not “stepping up” since the conflict began. She further added that shaking Sabalenka’s hand would be akin to “spitting in the face” of her family fighting on the frontline.
“I know I’m representing Belgium but all my family are in Ukraine,” Zanevska told AFP.
“I respect Aryna as a tennis player. She’s a great champion, hard worker, and I mean what she’s doing in tennis is amazing.
“But it’s my personal decision about not shaking the hand to someone who couldn’t step up. I don’t judge her. She’s protecting her family, but I’m protecting my family.
“I have family fighting on the frontline. And I think if I shake her hand it would be the same as spitting in the face of them.”
This controversial decision by Zanevska was met with mixed reactions. While some spectators booed her as she left the court, she remained firm in her stance, stating that she was leaving the tennis world with her head held high, believing in the righteousness of her actions.
“It was not the best way of leaving the court because people were booing but I was ready for that,” she said.
“But I’m leaving the tennis world with my head up and something I believe I did right.”
On the other hand, Sabalenka, who was left surprised and disappointed by the snub, advanced to the second round of the US Open, set to face Briton Jodie Burrage.