Reason Behind Kostyuk's Refusal To Play Russia's Andreeva In Exhibition Emerges

Reason Behind Kostyuk's Refusal To Play Russia's Andreeva In Exhibition Emerges

by Nurein Ahmed

Marta Kostyuk made front-page headlines when she pulled out from an exhibition event at the 11th hour this past week after learning she would play a Russian player in the final.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Ukrainian tennis players have stood in unison and refused to shake hands or make any noteworthy comments on podiums towards their Russian and Belarusian counterparts.

But for a Ukrainian player, walking away from a scheduled match against a Russian just hours before the kick was unprecedented, and it happened, giving the event planners a massive headache to save the tournament.

Kostyuk, a Ukrainian, had accepted an invitation to play the Négométal Open de Bourg-de-Péage - an exhibition tournament in France featuring players from the ATP and WTA tours. She replaced an injured Donna Vekic and was due to face Mirra Andreeva last Sunday.

Fresh from her honeymoon in the Maldives after tying the knot during the offseason, Kostyuk had "responded positively" when she was contacted by the tournament while being fully aware of the possibility of playing Andreeva, the 16-year-old Russian prodigy, as revealed by the tournament's treasurer and journalist Xavier Coffin on X (formerly Twitter).

"KOSTYUK affair: Thursday, Donna Vekic announced her withdrawal for shoulder pain. We then had to urgently look for a replacement. We received a lot of refusals. Marta responded positively to us."

Translated from French

"She was then told that she had a strong chance of playing Mirra Andreeva, a Russian player. She replied that she was ok but that she would not shake his hand, as has been done for several months on the WTA circuit. No worries on our side."

Her stance remained - Kostyuk would not shake hands with any Russian player, Xavier asserts. In a series of tweets, the same journalist stated that Kostyuk had a change of heart just three hours before the start of the match after succumbing to "enormous pressure" from her homeland once news spread to Ukraine like wildfire.

"Saturday evening: Mirra Andreeva beats Varvara Gracheva and advances to the final. From then on, the news spread in Ukraine (we would never have imagined 6 years ago that our little tournament would be talked about so far from our borders). Marta then suffered enormous pressure on the networks."

"Sunday morning: Marta arrives in Bourg-de-Péage. She had to play with some kids from the club in the morning before the afternoon game. She keeps her word and tells us “THE” news. Following the threats received on the networks, she does not feel like playing."

Kostyuk had arrived on Sunday morning as she was within French territory. The trip was seamless, and she warmed up with kids from the club. Moments later, she delivered the unwanted news to the organizers, and the tournament felt obliged to put up two matches on the day's schedule (with the men's final).

Varvara Gracheva, who had lost to Andreeva in the semis, had already boarded a train back home, and the only alternative for the tournament was to call on a club player, ranked World No. 1145 on the ATP Tour (yes, that's right) for an unexpected second episode of the Battle of the Sexes.

Xavier Coffin also noted that Kostyuk apologized for the incident and prioritized her safety. The organizers understood her honest intentions and explained that the 21-year-old was not to blame for something beyond her control despite Kostyuk being criticized for her refusal to play.

"Obviously, we are disappointed because we know that 3 hours before the start of the match, it will be very complicated to replace her (Gracheva having already taken her train). We activate our networks to find a player but it is far too complicated in such a short time."

"Marta finished her morning with our young people, took photos, signed autographs etc. In short, very professional. She doesn't ask us for anything. She apologizes again. She just wants to calm things down and above all, stop receiving threats on the networks."

"She leaves Bourg-de-Péage. Ghazouani Durand beats Mirra Andreeva. The Russian still lifts the Trophy (for the anecdote, the Director had broken the finalist's Cup that very morning). All's well that ends well and here, no one blames the Ukrainian."


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