'Confused' Ukrainian teen offers explanation after AO act that left Ukraine enraged

Yelyzaveta Kotliar shaked hands with a Russian rival following their first-round match at Melbourne Park.

by Dzevad Mesic
'Confused' Ukrainian teen offers explanation after AO act that left Ukraine enraged
© Australian Open

Ukrainian junior Yelyzaveta Kotliar admitted she "made a mistake" in shaking hands with a Russian opponent as the 16-year-old insists she will "never again" allow herself such a mistake after drawing scrutiny and ire from the Ukrainian Tennis Federation.

Kotliar, a top Ukrainian junior, took on Russia's Vlada Micheva in the first round of the Australian Open girls' singles event. After picking up a 6-2 6-4 defeat to Micheva, Kotliar went to the net and shook hands with her Russian opponent. 

For nearly the past two years, Ukrainian players have been avoiding shaking hands with Russian and Belarusian players. Because of that, Kotliar shaking hands with Micheva instantly drew lots of attention and it wasn't received well by her tennis federation as reportedly an investigation was being opened up against Kotliar. 

In a statement released, the Ukrainian Tennis Federation called Kotliar shaking Mincheva's hand "an unpleasant incident" and underlined to its players once again that they should "not hold handshakes with representatives of aggressor countries." Also, Kotliar's action was described as "a mistake" and it was also added in the statement that "our leading players have been informed about this and support this position."

Yelyzaveta Kotliar and Vlada Micheva
Yelyzaveta Kotliar and Vlada Micheva© Australian Open

Kotliar's father releases a statement: A mistake, will never happen again

For 16-year-old Kotliar, making headlines in her country for the wrong reasons was definitely something she did not want to happen. After receiving some harsh criticism and backlash, Kotliar's father released a statement. 

In his message, Konstant Kotliar suggested that the nerves, pressure, and inexperience contributed to his daughter's actions. Also, Konstantin Kotliar claimed that his daughter "was not completely in control of her behavior" when shaking hands with a Russian player. 

"The atmosphere here is extraordinary, which in itself puts a lot of pressure on the athletes," Kotliar's father Konstantin said in a statement released through the Ukrainian Tennis Federation.

"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 wasn't completely in control of her behavior.

"She automatically performed the post-match ritual, not realizing that behind the net there was a representative of the country who launched the attack on our homeland. It was definitely a mistake that Liza regrets and assures us that she will never allow anything like that to happen again."

Yelyzaveta Kotliar
Yelyzaveta Kotliar© Yelyzaveta Kotliar - Instagram

Dayana Yastremska defends Kotliar

On Wednesday, Ukraine's Yastremska progressed into the Australian Open semifinal following a 6-3 6-4 win over Linda Noskova. Before beating Noskova, Yastremska defeated Belarus' Victoria Azarenka. After a match against Azarenka, Yastremska didn't shake hands with the two-time Grand Slam champion. 

Following Yastremska's win over Noskova, the 23-year-old Ukrainian was asked about Kotliar shaking hands with a Russian junior. Answering the question, Yastremska acknowledged it wasn't the right thing to do but added that Kotliar was "young and inexperienced" and that she "got too emotional and confused." 

"You know, Ukrainians, we have our position. We are not shaking the hands," Yastremska highlighted.

"But I think she's still a little bit young. Not so experienced.

"But I'm sure that she stands by Ukraine, and I'm sure that she just got too emotional and confused."

Dayana Yastremska
Dayana Yastremska© Getty Images Sport - Cameron Spencer

Yastremska dedicated her Australian Open win to Ukrainian soldiers

After beating Noskova for her first Grand Slam semifinal, Yastremska wrote on the camera lens: "I'm proud of our fighting people from Ukraine." That message was a clear tribute to Ukrainian soldiers who have been trying to defend their homeland for the past two years.

Following her latest win and sealing a semifinal spot in Melbourne, Yastremska was asked to address the message she wrote on the camera lens. Responding to the question, Yastremska said every Ukrainian soldier deserves to be given "a huge respect" and noted that her goal is also to do something good for Ukraine. 

"If you understood what I wrote, it was about the Ukrainian fighters, that I'm very proud of them. They really deserve a huge respect. I always try to write something for Ukraine, about Ukraine," Yastremska said.

I think it's my mission here. If I do well, I can get -- tough to express. I'm just trying to give the signal to Ukraine that I'm really proud of it."

Meanwhile, Yastremska is close to achieving a historic feat at this year's Australian Open. After winning three qualifying matches, Yastremska has also won five more main draw matches at Melbourne Park. If Yastremska ends up winning the Australian Open title, she will become just the second player ever after Emma Raducanu to win a Grand Slam as a qualifier. 

Dayana Yastremska
Dayana Yastremska© Getty Images Sport - Phil Walter

In the Australian Open semifinal, Yastremska will be squaring off against Zheng Qinwen. On Wednesday, Zheng recovered from a set down to beat Anna Kalinskaya and set up a first meeting against Yastremska.

While Zheng is also playing great, there is no doubt that Yastremska will enter the match believing that she will have her chances against the Chinese. It remains to be seen if Yastremska can overcome Zheng for her ninth win at this year's Australian Open and come just a win away from winning the title as a qualifier and making history.

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