Wimbledon crowd boo Victoria Azarenka off court after defeat to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina

Azarenka blamed ‘drunk’ fans who had ‘a lot of Pimms’ after she was booed off court at Wimbledon

Jamie Braidwood
at Wimbledon
Monday 10 July 2023 11:27 BST
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Highlights from day 5 at Wimbledon

Belarusian Victoria Azarenka blamed “drunk” fans in the Wimbledon crowd after she was booed off court following her defeat to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.

Svitolina triumphed in an epic three-set battle against the former world No 1 Azarenka in what was the first match between a Ukrainian player and a Russian or Belarusian at this year’s tournament.

Players from Russia and Belarus were banned by Wimbledon last year following the invasion of Ukraine but they have been allowed to compete as neutral athletes this year.

Svitolina, like all Ukrainian players on the professional tour, does not shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents due to the ongoing invasion of her home country.

As expected, there was no handshake at the net but there was a nod of acknowledgement between the players.

But Azarenka was then loudly booed off the court as Svitolina prepared for her post-match interview.

Azarenka stopped walking as the booing began, and looked incredulous at the reaction from the fans on Court No 1.

The 33-year-old then banged her wrists together in apparent disgust.

Azarenka was booed by the Wimbledon crowd

Svitolina took a wildcard into the Wimbledon draw

In her post-match press conference, Azarenka said she was surprised by the crowd’s reaction to the non-handshake and said the booing was “not fair”.

“I'm not sure that a lot of people were understanding what's happening,” she said. “It’s probably been a lot of Pimm’s throughout the day.

“I feel like it's been pretty consistent for the last 18, 19 months. I haven't done anything wrong, but keep getting different treatment sometimes.

“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? Like, I mean, 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 crowd, quite drunk crowd, booing in the end, that's a shame. That's probably what it is in the end of the day.”

Svitolina shakes hands with the umpire after passing Azarenka

Before the tournament, Svitolina spoke out against Wimbledon’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players to return to the Championships.

Svitolina has explained she will not shake the hands of Russian and Belarusian opponents out of respect for the soldiers fighting on the front line following the invasion of her country.

Svitolina had the same reaction at last month’s French Open, when she was booed by some fans at Roland Garros after her quarter-final defeat to Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, the world No 2.

Svitolina did not shake hands with Sabalenka and was booed as she left the court, with Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk also getting that reception after her first-round defeat to Sabalenka.

Svitolina was booed off court at the French Open in Paris

Svitolina said a pre-match announcement, explaining that there will be no handshake between Ukrainian and Russian or Belarusian opponents, would help fans understand the situation.

“I already said multiple times that until Russian troops are out of Ukraine and we take back our territories, not going to shake hands. So I have clear statement,” Svitolina said. “I don't know how more clear I can be.”

Svitolina, a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2019 who only returned to tennis earlier this year after giving birth to her first child, was hugely emotional after her win against Azarenka and at the support she had received.

"I think after giving birth to our daughter this is the second happiest moment in my life,” she said in her on-court interview after the 2-6 6-4 7-6(9) win.

"When I was down in the second set I heard you guys cheering for me and I almost wanted to cry.

"It was really tough for me because I wasn’t playing my best, I was really struggling but I really wanted to win today. You guys gave me so much strength today. You were really unbelievable."

Svitolina plays top seed Iga Swiatek in the next round while there are three remaining Russian or Belarusian players left in the draw - Sabelenka, 22nd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, and 16-year-old qualifier Mirra Andreeva.

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