Wimbledon: Victoria Azarenka criticizes ‘drunk, unfair’ fans after being booed off following loss to Elina Svitolina

Victoria Azarenka branded Wimbledon fans “drunk” and not “fair” after she was booed off court following a fourth-round loss to 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, who had been overwhelmingly behind Svitolina throughout, produced a deafening roar when she clinched an epic 2-6 6-4 7-6 (11-9) victory.

The former world No 3 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.

Azarenka banged her fists together as she walked off court
Azarenka banged her fists together as she walked off court

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 respect 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.”

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, right, waits on the net as Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, left, walks off the court without shaking hands with her opponent at the end of their quarter final match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
Svitolina (left) walked off the court without shaking hands with her opponent Aryna Sabalenka at the French Open

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 organizations, 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.”

Svitolina drew strength from thinking of the plight of her knitting homeland, saying: “I was thinking back home there are lots of people that are watching and cheering for me, I know how much it means for them.

“Any moments that they can share of happiness. I was thinking there is tough times in Ukraine and I’m here playing in front of you guys. I cannot complain, I just have to fight. And here I am, I won the match.”

Elina Svitolina celebrates following her victory over Victoria Azarenka on day seven of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon.  Picture date: Sunday July 9, 2023.
Svitolina only returned to the tour in April following the birth of daughter Skai in October

She added later: “I feel responsibility, as well. So, if I’m going out to play this match against a Russian, Belarusian, I feel of course more pressure that I need to win. That’s why it means a lot to get these kinds of wins. In my own way, to bring this small victory to Ukraine.

“I heard a lot of Ukrainian people in the crowd. This was really special. And the crowd was amazing, what a really unbelievable feeling. I think one of the best atmospheres that I ever played in.”