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Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka glares as she’s booed off Wimbledon court - before blasting 'drunk' fans
10 July 2023, 08:46 | Updated: 10 July 2023, 08:55
Belarusian tennis player Victoria Azarenka branded Wimbledon fans "drunk" and not "fair" after she was booed off court following a fourth-round loss to Ukrainian Elina Svitolina.
It was the first clash between a Russian or Belarusian player and a Ukrainian at Wimbledon since the lifting of last year's ban on competitors from the aggressor nations.
The crowd backed Ukrainian Svitolina and roared for her as she won 2-6 6-4 7-6(9).
The pair didn’t shake hands at the net - and Azarenka was jeered as she began to walk off court. She was stopped in her tracks and stared at the crowd - before giving a dismissive gesture towards the stands.
Then, in her post-match press conference, blamed the fans for being ‘drunk’ - and questioned why she should wait for Svitolina when she doesn’t want to shake hands.
“But what can I say about the crowd? There is nothing to say. She doesn't want to shake hands with Russian, Belarusian people. I respected her decision. What should I have done? Stayed and waited?”
Former world number three Svitolina had been booed at the French Open, where she also made the last eight, for refusing to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents but here it was Azarenka, who put her hand up to acknowledge Svitolina before leaving the court, that received loud jeers.
It was unclear whether the fans thought it was she who had snubbed her opponent and Azarenka gave a long, lingering stare before banging her fists together in annoyance as she walked off.
"I can't control the crowd," she said. "I'm not sure that a lot of people were understanding what's happening. It's probably been a lot of Pimm's throughout the day. It wasn't fair. What can I do?
"I feel like it's been pretty consistent for the last 18, 19 months. I haven't done anything wrong but I keep getting different treatment sometimes.
"She doesn't want to shake hands with Russian, Belarusian people. I respected her decision. What should I have done? Stayed and waited? There's no thing that I could do that would have been right, so I just did what I thought was respectful towards her decision.
"But this conversation about shaking hands is not a life-changing conversation. So if you guys want to keep talking about it, bring it up, make it a big deal, headlines, whatever it is, keep going.
"I thought it was a great tennis match. If people are going to be focusing only on handshakes or a quite drunk crowd, booing in the end, that's a shame."
The reaction was even more vociferous than in Paris, and Svitolina believes the situation should be spelled out ahead of such contests.
"I think the tennis organisations, they have to come out with a statement that there will be no handshake between Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian players," she said.
"I already said multiple times that, until Russian troops are out of Ukraine and we take back our territories, I'm not going to shake hands. I don't know how more clear I can be."
"I heard a lot of Ukrainian people in the crowd. This was really special. And the crowd was amazing, was a really unbelievable feeling. I think one of the best atmospheres that I ever played in."
On a lighter note, the 28-year-old revealed ahead of the match that her Wimbledon run meant she had to give away tickets to the Harry Styles concert she had planned to attend.
"I hope Harry is watching," she said. "I'm a big fan of his."
Styles was clearly aware of her accomplishment as he wrote to her on Instagram: "Congratulations! We have four shows to go, you're welcome at any of them. Good luck with the rest of the tournament."