WASHINGTON/ PRAGUE — Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina grabbed a second straight victory over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus at the WTA Tour DC Open in Washington, weeks after the duo’s Wimbledon clash was marred by a handshake controversy.
Azarenka was booed off court at Wimbledon earlier this month after her defeat to Svitolina, with fans apparently perceiving she had snubbed her Ukrainian opponent by not advancing to the net for a handshake.
In fact, Svitolina did not offer a handshake — something she has declined to do with players from Russia and Belarus ever since the invasion of her homeland. Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow.
Tournament organisers in Washington aimed to pre-empt any possible repeat of the controversy by informing fans before the match there would be no handshakes.
“At the conclusion of the match there will be no handshake between the players,” a message on an arena screen said beforehand.
“We appreciate your respect for both athletes during and following the match, and for your understanding during these difficult circumstances.”
With that issue settled, it was left to the two rivals to serve up a hard-fought if error-strewn battle that saw no fewer than 17 breaks of serve before Svitolina finally prevailed 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
Svitolina clinched victory by breaking Azarenka’s serve in the 10th game of the second set.
A wild Azarenka backhand presented Svitolina with a match point which she duly converted on the first attempt after bludgeoning a forehand winner into the corner.
Meanwhile, Jaqueline Cristian upset top-seeded Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to eliminate the defending champion in the first round of the Prague Open.
The unseeded Romanian beat the Czech player for the first time in their four encounters.
In an all-Ukrainian match, eighth-seeded Kateryna Baindl defeated Dayana Yastremska 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
In other first-round games, Germany´s Tamara Korpatsch beat Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria 6-2, 6-4 and Japan´s Nao Hibino edged Italy´s Sara Errani 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.
No.34 Marta Kostyuk came from a set down and saved three match points to defeat No.44 Bianca Andreescu 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in the first round of the Mubadala Citi D.C. Open.
Playing at a career-high ranking this week, Kostyuk coolly reeled in the 2019 US Open champion to level their head-to-head at 1-1.
With aggressive play from the baseline and a flurry of reflex winners, the 21-year-old Ukrainian avenged her loss to Andreescu earlier in the season in the quarterfinals of Hua Hin.
After Andreescu broke twice in the opening set, Kostyuk began her comeback by building a 3-0 lead in the second set.
When Andreescu ran off three consecutive games and threatened to make it a fourth, Kostyuk saved two break points to quell the Canadian’s momentum and went on to take the set.
Elsewhere, seven-time major champion Venus Williams is set to play a full summer hard-court schedule ahead of the US Open.
Williams has been awarded a main-draw wild card into the Western & Southern Open, which begins on Aug. 14.
Williams’ addition to the Cincinnati draw means the former No.1 will play the three biggest tournaments of the US Open Series.
She has also accepted a wild card into the Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal, Canada and the US Open. Montreal, the first WTA 1000 tournament since the clay season, begins on Aug. 7.
Williams will be making her 10th singles appearance in Cincinnati, and 12th in Montreal.
The 43-year-old American posted her best Montreal result in 2014 when she defeated her sister Serena to advance to the final. Her best result in Cincinnati came with a semi-final run in 2012.