Victoria Azarenka was ordered to remove a shirt she was wearing in a bizarre scene ahead of her semi-final loss at the Australian Open on Thursday night.
After a breathless first set, reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina won the tie-break and ran away with the match, winning 7-6, 6-3.
Before the match, Azarenka entered the Rod Laver Arena wearing a Paris Saint Germain football shirt, but referee Alison Hughes quickly told her to take it off.
The 33-year-old had worn the PSG shirt on the pitch before several of her matches at Melbourne Park, explaining she wears it because it’s the club her son Leo supports and wants to play for a day.
Azarenka had also worn the shirt during press conferences, but the referee told her to take it off and warm up in the outfit she was going to play in.
The two-time Australian Open champion complied with the directive and said she believed it was a sponsorship issue.
«They told me to take it off twice because I had a different shirt,» Azarenka said in her post-match press conference. “I think that’s the problem with sponsorships. I guess the logos are too big… I know I’m not allowed to play in that. I knew that stuff.
“But I can still walk on the pitch in whatever I want to walk on the pitch. I do it for my own reasons. My son wore the white shirt today to practice, and I tried to wear a white shirt to my game but couldn’t. So, it’s OK.
Azarenka was in the running to become the fourth woman to win a Grand Slam after becoming a mother, but fell short of the rare feat.
Saturday’s final will see Rykabina face Aryna Sabalenka after the Belarusian beat Poland’s Magda Linette 7-6, 6-2 in the other semi-final.
Azarenka was in no mood for reporters after her straight-set loss.
The veteran asked a tricky question during her post-match press conference about Russian nationalists staging a rally in support of President Vladimir Putin outside the Rod Laver Arena.
On Thursday, it emerged that Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdan, had posed for a photo with members of the group, including a man wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the pro-war «Z» symbol. The display, which followed Djokovic’s win over Andrey Rublev on Wednesday night, was a critical talking point, however, Azarenka, who plays under a neutral flag as a Belarusian player, brushed off the round of questioning.
Azarenka’s exchange with a reporter turned frosty as she said her response was likely to be «shot».
«You ask me about things that someone says is in my control, but I don’t believe it,» she said. “I don’t know what you want me to answer. If it’s a provocative question, you can twist the story any way you want.
She said the off-court scandal had nothing to do with the tournament players.
«Whatever answer I give you now will be turned in the direction you want to turn it,» she said. “So it bothers me? What bothers me is that real things are happening in the world.