Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk has called out the US Open for using a Russian flag in a social media post relating to her match.
Kostyuk beat Russia’s Maria Timofeeva at the Australian Open to reach her first ever major quarter-final, but was stopped short in her celebrations when scrolling upon a US Open Instagram post. The post was seemingly innocuous – a picture of Kostyuk with her winning 6-2, 6-1 scoreline graphic – but included a Russian flag alongside Timofeeva’s name.
The post deviated from the standard approach taken across tennis since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly two years ago. All tournaments have refrained from using the Russian or Belarusian flags in any score graphic associated with players from those countries, as they are only allowed to compete as neutral athletes.
“As you know with the beginning of the full-scale invasion, we fought for the suspension of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” Kostyuk said in a social media message of her own, with a screenshot of the US Open Instagram post. “Now they act in neutral status without their flags.
“And so today, after my victory over the athletes from the aggressor country, the Russian flag was published on the official resource of one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. Today is the 697th day of full-scale war, and the sports world continues to promote a murderous country and a country that uses its athletes as part of its propaganda.”
The US Open’s post has since been deleted, and Telegraph Sport has contacted organisers the USTA for comment. This gaffe is one of a number of controversial moments that have followed tennis, sparked by tensions between the warring nations.
Most famously, in 2022 the All England Club and the LTA became the only authorities to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing during the British grass court season, including Wimbledon - a stance they reversed after receiving hefty fines from the women’s and men’s tours.
‘Stop using tennis to promote Russian peace’
Russia and its allied nation Belarus are blocked from competing in any team tennis events, but individual athletes from the countries can play as neutrals in singles or doubles at any other tournament.
Alongside her Ukrainian peers, Kostyuk, 21, has refused to shake the hand of any opponent from Russia or Belarus. She has been one of the most vocal athletes in continuing to question why they are allowed to play in the first place.
“We have repeatedly asked the question, what is the status of a neutral athlete?” She wrote on Sunday. “Because it actually does not exist:
These athletes have repeatedly said that everyone knows which countries they represent.
Their government constantly says that these are their athletes and the world knows about it.
The international media in their publications write that these are Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Many athletes have their flags on social networks.
“I call on media representatives, officials and the sports community to stop using the tennis court to promote ‘Russian peace’.”
Kostyuk will play American Coco Gauff for a place in the semi-finals on Tuesday.