Russia’s Wimbledon ban leaves players stuck in the middle

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WIMBLEDON, England — While the singles rankings have shaken ahead of Wimbledon, 16 players from the top 100 will miss out due to the All England Club banning athletes from Russia and Belarus. The club that hosts the world’s most revered tennis tournament made the decision in April due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ support for the invasion.

For men, they are players class Nos. 1, 8, 22, 40 and 43—four Russians and one Belorussian. For women, they are players class Nos. 6, 13, 20, 21, 30, 35, 47, 69, 78, 83 and 87 — eight Russians and three Byelorussians.

“Yeah, I think it was tough,” Cameron Norrie, Britain’s highest-ranked men’s player at No. 12, said on Saturday. “It was tough, you know. Morally, they did the right thing. I like that they were pretty on her with that. But I feel for a few players, especially Daniil [Medvedev, No. 1 in the world] and Andrei [Rublev, No. 8], who have a good chance of winning the tournament. So I really feel for these guys who are so committed to tennis and so professional.

With Medvedev and number 2 Alexander Zverev out, the latter due to ankle surgery, it’s the first time in the 49-year history of the rankings that Wimbledon will be without the top two men. But Wimbledon has had a far emptier men’s draw than this: in 1973, some 81 players, including 13 of the top 16, boycotted in protest at the suspension of Yugoslavian player Nikola Pilic.

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Near the top, the women’s team will be without No.6 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, a semi-finalist last year; No. 13 Daria Kasatkina of Russia; No. 20 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and two-time Australian Open champion; and No. 21 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia. As for the men, Medvedev, 26, and Rublev, 24, didn’t make it past the fourth round at Wimbledon, but both reached that stage last year. Medvedev is the defending US Open champion and Rublev is a five-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, including at the French Open this month.

When the players arrived for the weekend interviews, they reiterated their views on the bans. Novak Djokovic, the three-time defending champion and 20-time major champion ranked No. 3 in the world but No. 1 here, referenced the 1990s when his wartime homeland, then Yugoslavia, drew bans and disqualifications for events such as the 1992 European Football Championship, the 1994 World Cup, the 1996 European Championship and, to some extent, the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.

Measured and respectful in his remarks, Djokovic said: “What I can say is that as a child of war, of several wars in fact in the 90s, I know what it is like to be in this position. But on the other hand, I can’t say that I fully agree with banning Russian tennis players, Belarusian tennis players, from competing indefinitely. I just don’t see how they contributed to what. whatever actually happens. I mean, I don’t think that’s fair. … I feel like they deserve to win. They deserve to compete. They’re professional athletes. No d ‘between them didn’t support a war or anything like that. It’s very sensitive. Once something like that happens on a big stage, whatever you really say as a person doing one or the other country, you know, is going to be judged one way or another. I understand both sides. It’s really difficult to say what is right and what is wrong.

In player remarks over the weekend, the issue seemed absorbed and settled if still confusing, as did the idea that the ban would mean players wouldn’t earn ranking points for their performance at Wimbledon, a problem for those who want to progress.

“I always said that my idea was not to mix politics and sport because, at the end of the story, the athletes are affected,” said Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian ranked No. 2 in the world. “The players couldn’t play the tournament and we couldn’t score points, so no one wins in the end.”

“I feel like I understand both sides of the situation,” said 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, a French Open finalist who hasn’t been shy about raising her own voice on important issues. “For me it’s a tough decision just because I know a lot of Belarusian and Russian athletes in women’s. I know, at least those I’ve spoken to, certainly don’t support what’s happening in Ukraine in But I also understand the side of trying to pressure the Russian government to pull out of Ukraine, maybe how sports can kind of… have an impact on that.

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“I’ve talked about it many times,” said Andy Murray, the two-time Wimbledon champion. “I understand why the decision was made. I also know quite well, on the male side, Russian players and Belarusian players. Friendly with them. I get on well with them. Yes, I feel bad for them too. I can also understand the frustration on their end. Regarding the ATP response [about rankings points], I didn’t really agree. I just don’t see who that helps.

Serena Williams, the seven-time champion returning to singles tennis for the first time since Wimbledon in 2021, chose to refrain from comment.

In a London Sunday weather reverie, the embassies were silent, even as the pavement in front of Russia’s narrowed to allow for metal barricades. A few steps away, the Embassy of the Czech Republic had Czech and Ukrainian flags in its window. Further down the street near Holland Park and the Ukrainian Embassy, ​​the statue of Saint Volodymyr, ruler from 980 to 1015, was adorned with several flags. Signs nearby read ‘THE WORLD KNOWS THE TRUTH’ and ‘STOP THE WAR NOW’.

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