06 June 2023

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina beaten by Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka at French Open

06 June 2023

Elina Svitolina was booed again by the French Open crowd after her memorable Paris run was ended by Aryna Sabalenka in the quarter-finals.

In her first grand slam since the birth of daughter Skai last October, the Ukrainian has enjoyed one of her best grand slams but Australian Open champion Sabalenka was too strong in a 6-4 6-4 victory.

Having hit away the winning forehand, Belarusian Sabalenka stood at the net waiting for a handshake she must have known would not come, and there were loud boos as Svitolina walked straight past her without acknowledging her.

The 28-year-old had received loud support during the match but she left Philippe Chatrier to a mixture of jeers and cheers.

Svitolina had beaten two consecutive Russian opponents, both times offering a thumbs up at the end, but this was probably the highest-profile sporting clash between competitors from opposing sides of the war since it began.

Svitolina has been more measured in her criticism of Russian and Belarusian players than compatriots like Marta Kostyuk, who Sabalenka beat in the first round.

The Belarusian again declined to speak to the press ahead of the contest following tense exchanges with a Ukrainian journalist but said before the Kostyuk match that the surrounding circumstances had added to her nerves.

She need not have worried about the reaction walking out on to Philippe Chatrier as, although a few Ukraine flags were evident, the crowd was sparse and both players received warm welcomes.

The pair matched each other game for game until Sabalenka forced a first break point at 4-4 and crunched away a return off a weak second serve.

Svitolina made a fast start to the second set, moving 2-0 ahead, but could not convert a game point in the next game and Sabalenka began to really make her extra power count, moving into a 4-2 lead.

With the patrons now having finished their lunch and fully engaged, they tried to will Svitolina – who was watched by husband Gael Monfils – into a comeback, but Sabalenka held her nerve.

In the last four Sabalenka will meet unseeded Karolina Muchova, who earlier defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to reach her second grand slam semi-final.

The Czech, who also made the last four at the Australian Open in 2021, matched her best slam result with a 7-5 6-2 victory on Philippe Chatrier.

Muchova, 26, suffered an abdominal injury during her Australian run that kept her out for seven months and she was ranked outside the top 200 as recently as September.

With her run here, Muchova is set to return to the top 20, and she said: “I don’t know what to say. It’s been an incredible two weeks and I’m just glad I’m still in the competition.”

Pavlyuchenkova has also found form here after knee surgery kept her out for most of last season but the 2021 runner-up is now set to miss the grass-court season because her ranking was not high enough to get her into Wimbledon.

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