Australian Open: Ukraine tennis star apologises after shaking hands with Russian opponent

Yelyzaveta Kotliar and Vlada Mincheva shake hands at the Australian Open. Credit: Australian Open

A Ukrainian tennis player who shook hands with her Russian opponent at the Australian Open has been forced to apologise.

Yelyzaveta Kotliar took part in the gesture following her defeat to Vlada Mincheva in the first round of the junior singles.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, it has been common practice for Ukrainian players not to shake hands with opponents from Russia and Belarus during matches, and the country's tennis federation described the incident as a "mistake".

The Ukrainian Tennis Federation said that it supports the stance of its players not to shake hands with representatives from "aggressor countries", and also shared an explanation from Kotliar's father, Kostiantyn, about the incident.

"Liza is only 16-years-old, she has no real experience of playing in such significant competitions as the grand slam tournaments, the very top of both professional and junior tennis," he said.

"The atmosphere here is extraordinary, which in itself puts a lot of pressure on the athletes. At the beginning of your career, it's hard to cope with this and not be nervous.

"Unfortunately, my daughter didn't feel calm, her emotions were running high, so she didn't fully control her behavior. She performed the post-match ritual on automatic, shaking hands with her opponent, not realising that behind the net there was a representative of the country that had attacked our homeland.

"It was definitely a mistake that Liza regrets and assures that she will never allow anything like that to happen again. She will always remember who is who. In fact, she is a sincere patriot of Ukraine, always has been, and will remain so in the future."

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Since the start of the war, Russian and Belarusian tennis players have continued to play at tournaments and grand slams, but must do so as neutrals without their flag or country displayed.

The only exception has been Wimbledon, which temporarily banned players from those two countries in 2022.

Ukrainian tennis Dayana Yastremska, who is in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, spoke about the incident during a press conference on Australian Open TV.

She said: "You know Ukrainians, we have our position.

"We are not shaking the hands, but I think she is still a little bit young, not so experienced and it can happen with everyone you know.

"I cannot judge her because I don't know what was in her head, so did she make this on purpose or not on purpose I don't know, but I'm sure that she stands by Ukraine.

"And I'm sure that she just got too emotional and confused."

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