Roland Garros bracing for Svitolina v Sabalenka clash


Tension will be at its highest at the French Open on Tuesday when Elina Svitolina faces Aryna Sabalenka in front of a notoriously fickle Roland Garros crowd.

Ukraine's Svitolina has been refusing to shake hands with players from Russia or Belarus, who has been a key staging ground for what Moscow calls a 'special military operation', while Belarusian Sabalenka has been in the eye of the storm for snubbing the media after being grilled about the war.

Sabalenka is aiming for the world number one spot in Paris but she has a mountain to climb in the form of Svitolina, who will have the full backing of the raucous, sometimes brutal Roland Garros crowd.

The match, however, is scheduled second on court Philippe Chatrier, around lunch time, when the crowd are usually sparse.

Svitolina, playing her first Grand Slam since becoming a mother eight months ago, is the partner of Gael Monfils, one of the French fans' most beloved player, which makes her, in her own words, the 'last French player standing'.

The former world number three was fully supported by the fans in her fourth-round win against Russian Daria Kasatkina, who was booed at the end of the match although she has spoken out against the war, calling it a 'full nightmare'.

Sabalenka, who has skipped two press conferences here saying she felt 'not safe' after being repeatedly quizzed about her personal stance on the war, can expect a hostile reception.

The Roland Garros aficionados' reactions can be so unpredictable, however, that it was Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk who was jeered for refusing to shake hands with Sabalenka after their first-round match.

Whether extra security measures would be taken was not disclosed, with organisers telling Reuters that "for reasons of confidentiality we do not communicate on this matter".

In the men's draw, world number one Carlos Alcaraz and two-time French Open champion Novak Djokovic face the last obstacle before a much-awaited semi-final encounter.

The Spaniard takes on 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, the fifth seed, having dismantled the hugely-talented Lorenzo Musetti in the previous round, while the Greek has had an easy path into the last eight.

Djokovic, gunning for a record-breaking 23rd men's Grand Slam singles title here, will be up against Russian 11th seed Karen Khachanov, who has beaten him only once in nine meetings, in 2018.

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