Men’s Tennis Tour Penalizes Wimbledon Over Ban On Russian Players

“How do you draw a line when you ban players and when you don’t?” Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian and a former no. 1 singles player said in a telephone interview from Moscow.

Unlike Wimbledon, Britain has not been stripped of ranking points in the lead-in events being formally part of the tours. Wimbledon, as a Grand Slam event, operates independently but does have agreements with the tours on many levels, including ranking points. But the ATP and WTA chose not to strip points from the British lead-in events because other tournaments were located on the European continent were still open to Russian and Belarusian players during those three weeks of the grasscourt season. There was also the concern that without ranking points on offer, players would choose to withdraw from the British grasscourt tournaments. Wimbledon, with its huge prize money and prestige, is unlikely to experience such withdrawals even without points.

Wimbledon had come under pressure from the British government to act. The tournament opted for a ban after rejecting the government’s suggestion that Russian and Belarusian players provide “written declarations” that they were not representing their countries; that they were not receiving state funding or sponsorship from companies with strong links to the Russian state; And that they did not have and would not express support for the invasion of Ukraine or their countries’ leadership. There was above all concern that such a declaration could put players or their families at risk and also concern that the option would not be available to all Russian and Belarusian competitors. Junior players, for example, are routinely funded by the Russian and Belarusian tennis federations and would thus be unlikely to be eligible to sign.

But in announcing bans on individual athletes, Wimbledon and the British grass-court events remain outliers. No other tour event has followed them. Russian and Belarusian players, including the men 2, Daniil Medvedev of Russia, and the women no. 7, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, is set to take part in the French Open, the next Grand Slam tournament on the schedule, when it starts on Sunday.

After the war in Ukraine began in February, professional tennis moved quickly to team events from Russia and Belarus, such as the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup, both of which were won by Russia in 2021. The tours and the International Tennis Federation also canceled tournaments are scheduled to be played in Russia and Belarus later this year, including the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. The ITF suspended the countries’ tennis federations from its membership as well.

But Russian and Belarusian players were able to keep competing on tour as individuals, without albeit any national identity. There are no flags or countries listed next to their names on scoreboards, draws in or the tour’s official computer rankings. If the Wimbledon ban is currently in place as expected, Russians and Belarusians will be able to take part in the grass-court season playing only in events held outside Britain. Medvedev, for one, intends to do so, confirming on Friday in Paris that he will play for three straight weeks before the grass at Wimbledon at s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, Halle in Germany and Majorca in Spain.

No Russian or Belarusian player has indicated publicly that they intend to take legal measures against Wimbledon to seek entry into the tournament. Medvedev made it clear that he would not even while suggesting that there might be room for such an appeal.

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