Jeers rain down as Kostyuk refuses to shake hands with Sabalenka at French open

Aryna Sabalenka kept her cool to win a politically-charged French Open duel against Marta Kostyuk on Sunday as jeers rained down after the defeated Ukrainian refused to shake hands with her Belarusian opponent.

Jeers rain down as Kostyuk refuses to shake hands with Sabalenka at French open
Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk (R) and Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka (L) attend the toss prior to their women's singles match on day one of Roland-Garros. Photo: Thomas SAMSON/AFP.

World number two and Australian Open champion Sabalenka swept 10 of the last 12 games to win 6-3, 6-2 as she kick-started her push to reach the second week in Paris for the first time.

Kostyuk honoured her pledge not to shake hands with Sabalenka in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus is a key military ally of Moscow.

“It was a very tough match, tough emotionally. I didn’t know if the booing was against me but thank you so much for your support, it’s really important,” said Sabalenka who performed a theatrical bow to the sparse Court Philippe Chatrier crowd.

Kostyuk, 20, famously refused to shake hands with Sabalenka’s Belarusian compatriot and former world number one Victoria Azarenka at the US Open last year. She opted instead for a cursory touch of racquets at the net.

The 39th-ranked Kostyuk has been a vociferous critic of the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian players to keep competing on tour since the invasion of her country.

“If she hates me, OK. I can’t do anything about that,” said 25-year-old Sabalenka on the eve of the match.

“About the no shaking, I can kind of understand them. Like I imagine if they’re going to shake hands with Russians and Belarusians, then they’re gonna get so many messages from their home countries.”

“If they feel good with no shaking hands, I’m happy with that.”

This year sees a new era at the French Open where for the first time since 2004 Rafael Nadal will not grace the famous red clay.

Injured Nadal, the 14-time champion, sits out the 2023 edition of a tournament where he has lost just three of 115 matches.

In his absence, Novak Djokovic, a two-time winner, and the man responsible for two of Nadal’s three career losses in Paris, will look to edge ahead of the Spaniard with a record-setting 23rd major.

However, he faces serious threats from the likes of Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev, currently the world’s top two players ahead of Djokovic.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the fifth seed and runner-up to Djokovic in the 2021 final after squandering a two-sets lead, begins his bid for a first Grand Slam later Sunday against Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic.

Tsitsipas has enjoyed a solid clay court season, finishing runner-up to Alcaraz in Barcelona and making the semi-finals in Rome last week.

Former top 40 player Vesely has plummeted to 452 in the world and has not played a match on the main ATP Tour all year.

However, the 29-year-old Czech is not to be under-estimated — he defeated Djokovic at the 2016 Monte Carlo Masters and again in Dubai last year.

He and Marat Safin are the only players to beat Djokovic multiple times with no losses.

Andrey Rublev, the seventh seed and Monte Carlo champion in April, begins against Laslo Djere of Serbia.

Rublev has made the quarter-finals in Paris on two occasions while 57th-ranked Djere has twice made the third round.

Women’s third seed Jessica Pegula and eighth-seeded Maria Sakkari are also in action on Sunday.

Pegula, a quarter-finalist in 2022, tackles American compatriot Danielle Collins.

Sakkari made the semi-finals in 2021 where she was defeated in a three-set epic by eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.

Another Czech player, Karolina Muchova is her opponent on Sunday.

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How to follow the Tour de France on French TV (and why you might want to)

The Tour de France is starting earlier than usual this year - here's how to follow the race on TV, and why the coverage is of interest even if you're not a cycling fan.

How to follow the Tour de France on French TV (and why you might want to)

For the first time since the Tour de France began in 1903, it will not finish in or near Paris, but instead in Nice, in order to accommodate the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

The event will also start earlier than usual, with the grand départ scheduled for June 29th. Cyclists will cross the finish line on July 21st.

This 2024 race will begin in Florence, Italy.

According to the race website, there “will be eight flat stages, as well as four hilly, seven mountain (with four summit finishes at Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d’Adet, Plateau de Beille, Isola 2000, Col de la Couillole), two time trials and two rest days.”

This year, participants will climb a total vertical gain of 52,230 meters, crossing a distance of 3,492 kilometres.

Credit: Tour de France official website

How can I watch the race?

If you are in France, then you can enjoy rolling coverage on the free-to-view TV channels of France 2 and France 3. 

It’s not just footage of men on bikes, the TV coverage is famed for its highlighting of the more unknown corners of France so it’s a great way to discover new places to visit. 

For those outside of France, you can go onto the official race website (HERE) to see a listing of all ‘live’ broadcasters in several different countries. 

As much of the race takes place during the day when many are working, you can enjoy recaps each evening at 8.45pm on France 3 via the ‘TLS Tour de France’ show. This looks back on the best moments of the day, giving a summary of that stage and the results, as well as reactions from teams and rider, plus analysis from experts. 

Later on, the Tour de France Femmes, scheduled for August 12th to 18th, will also be broadcast on the France Télévisions website. This is free to watch but you will first need to create an account on the site, you will need a 5-digit French postal code to make an account (eg 75004 if you’re in central Paris).

Why watch the Tour de France?

Each year between 10 and 12 million spectators watch the race widely considered to be the most famous and most difficult cycle challenge, according to Le Figaro.

The Tour de France route changes every year, so viewers not only witness the impressive athleticism of participants, but they also explore France’s different regions. The towns that stage the départs (start of each race day) usually put on a festival often incorporating local traditions, food and drink (for the spectators, not the cyclists).

This year, the Tour de France will go through beautiful landscapes in the Occitanie region, as well as the Alps and across central France.

The race has a fascinating history, and every now and again there are spectacular crashes which will keep you wincing.

There is also a hit Netflix docu-series called ‘Tour de France: Unchained’ that may be a good place to start for the uninitiated.

French vocab

Le maillot jaune – yellow jersey (worn by the winner)

Le grand départ – the race start

Le départ – the start of each stage 

Le peloton – the group of cyclises (literally translated as ‘the pack’)