Ukrainian teenage tennis player ‘too emotional and confused’ when shaking hands with Russian opponent, says Dayana Yastremska

Jan 24, 2024; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;  Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine celebrates her victory over Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic in the quarter final of the women's singles at the Australian Open.
Mandatory Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports

Ukrainian tennis player Dayana Yastremska reached her first grand slam semifinal on Wednesday.Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports/ReutersCNN — 

Ukrainian tennis player Dayana Yastremska said that her teenage compatriot Yelyzaveta Kotliar was likely to have been “too emotional and confused” when shaking hands with a Russian opponent.

The 16-year-old Kotliar was competing in the first round of the Australian Open junior girls’ singles competition when she shook hands with Russian player Vlada Mincheva at the net.

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.”

Speaking to reporters after her quarterfinal victory in Melbourne on Wednesday, Yastremska said: “I think she’s still a little bit young. Not so experienced. It can happen with everyone.

Fans watch France's Gael Monfils first round match from a bar overlooking court 6 at the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.There's a certainly a buzz around the bar that overlooks Court 6 and gives Australians Open fans a shady place to have a cool drink on a hot day, which is something of a national tradition. It's popular with fans but the music and constant movement adjacent to a Grand Slam tennis court is dividing opinion among players. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

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“I cannot judge her, because I don’t know what was in her head. So did she [do] 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.”

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 realizing 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.”

Yelyzaveta Kotliar

Yelyzaveta Kotliar was appearing at a grand slam tournament for the first time at the Australian Open.Ukrainian Tennis Federation/Facebook

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.

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‘Nice to make history’

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the 23-year-old Yastremska continued her stunning run at the Australian Open by defeating the Czech Republic’s Linda Nosková 6-3 6-4.

In doing so, she became the first Australian Open qualifier since 1978 to reach the semifinals of the tournament and extended her best-ever showing at a grand slam.

“It’s nice to make history,” she said. “It’s something new for me and for my generation because the last time it happened it was a long time ago. I wasn’t born yet. It’s nice.

“I’m really happy to be in my first semifinals. I was a little bit nervous, but at the same time tired.”

Yastremska will face China’s Zheng Qinwen in the Australian Open final four on Thursday.

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