London | Ukraine update – tennis divided

Opinion remains divided in the tennis world over the UK’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the grass court swing and The Championships at Wimbledon this summer because of the on-going situation in Ukraine.

They pretend like nothing is going on, they pretend that they are the victims of this situation, which I honestly cannot get it. I don’t know how much time needs to pass before they stop making excuses for themselves to do whatever, to do anything, any decision, any movement... There is a list of countries that, on the government level, signed or voted that everything that is happening in Ukraine is genocide. So based on that, which is not political, the decision was made, so let’s be clear about this. Marta Kostyuk

While the ATP and WTA have backed down from stripping the lead-in tournaments of ranking points, Wimbledon remains under review.

Both the ATP and WTA Player Councils had supported the removal of points after the AELTC and the LTA ruled that entries from athletes from the aggressor countries would not be accepted due to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Following extensive consultation with the Player Council and Tournament Council, the ATP Board has today confirmed that this season’s ATP Tour events in Queen’s and Eastbourne will proceed as normal, offering full ranking points,” said the ATP in a statement.

The LTA, however, is still set to face disciplinary action for breaching its contract with the tours by issuing the ban.

“LTA’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes is however contrary to ATP rules and undermines the ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, without discrimination – a fundamental principle of the ATP Tour,” continued the statement.

“Sanctions related to LTA’s violation of ATP rules will now be assessed separately under ATP governance.

“ATP’s response to Wimbledon’s decision remains under review, with more to be communicated in due course.”

Russian and Belarusian players will be playing at the French Open, which starts on Sunday, 22 May, but they will do so as neutral athletes and not under their national identities.

The tournaments at The Queen’s Club and Eastbourne, due to begin on 13 June and 20 June respectively, are treated as the big warm-up events for Wimbledon, which starts on 27 June and runs until 10 July.

Rafael Nadal, a 21-time Grand Slam champion and member of the ATP Players’ Council, revealed there have been private conversations on the Council and it is their job to protect the players.

“What’s going to be fair, or more or less fair, for everybody – nothing is perfect,” the Spaniard said at the Italian Open. “When things like this happen, nothing will be perfect because we have to know that, not for everybody, it will be perfect.

“My personal opinion, I am going to say it, and I have already said it in private, but this is about the [ATP] Tour, it’s not about my opinion.

“The only thing that we can do is to be in touch with Wimbledon, and with the rest of the ATP management, to do the things that work better to protect every single player in the ATP.

“At the end that’s our job, to protect the players and to work in the benefit of every single player that we are representing. That’s all. The rest of the things I am not able to talk about.”

It is expected that Wimbledon will also retain its ranking points with the loss of them unlikely to deter players from competing at the grass court major.

Ian Hewitt, Chairman of the All England Club, explained Wimbledon's position on the ban at the spring press conference on 26 April

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wimbledon chairman Ian Hewitt said the UK Government had left them with ‘no viable alternative’ other than to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s Championships, adding that the Club was left with only two options – an outright ban or forcing players to sign declarations condemning the invasion of Ukraine.

Men’s World No 2 Daniil Medvedev admits that he understands why Wimbledon has instigated the ban.

“On the one hand, I can understand it and, on the other, I find it unfair,” the US Open champion told Swiss newspaper Tribune de Geneve. “This is a tricky situation because it sets a precedent and puts other sports competitions in an uncomfortable position.

“Having discussed this with the ATP, we tennis players are considered by law to be self-employed.

“Currently in the United Kingdom, Russian self-employed workers have the right to work. So, if I have the opportunity to play Wimbledon, I’d be delighted. If not, I would accept [the decision].”

French Open Tournament Director Amélie Mauresmo says that there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding allowing them to compete in Paris, but they will face ‘sanctions’ if they support Vladimir Putin in public.

“It’s very complicated, probably there is no fair decision to take,” she told France Inter. “We keep the line of what all the European governments – and other governments – decided in March, i.e. national teams of Russia and Belarus banned, but not the athletes as individuals, as long as they play under strict neutrality.

“We will be very meticulous on that. If any of them should have pro-Putin statements in the media, there will be sanctions for sure.”

Elina Svitolina attended Global Sport Week in Paris on 11 May, promoting aid for Ukraine

© Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images For Global Sport Week

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina is missing this year’s French Open, prolonging an indefinite break from the sport after insisting it is ‘impossible to perform’ while her country remains under attack from Russian forces, plus the Olympic bronze medallist, who has not played competitive tennis since March, has just announced that she and husband Gael Monfils now are pregnant.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, aided by Belarus, on 24 February and, since then, at least 3,459 civilians have been killed in the country, according to the United Nations, although it is feared that the true figure is far higher, while more than 5.9 million people have fled the country due to the war.

Svitolina says she is horrified by the situation in her homeland.

“When I was playing in Indian Wells and Miami it was impossible to focus, I didn’t perform as good as I wanted,” Svitolina explained. “I couldn’t focus properly on practice and on the match.

“This was devastating for me. I was mentally drained, and this is not good. I cannot perform at the highest level.”

Svitolina’s home city of Odessa has been under bombardment from Russian missiles.

“Every single day, something new is happening now,” said Svitolina. “Right now, the last few days have been so tough for my hometown of Odesa.

“It is being attacked and it is so tough to see. My home city, where I spent my childhood, getting bombed and on fire.”

Talking about Wimbledon’s ban, Svitolina insists that Russian and Belarusian players must denounce the war to be allowed to compete.

“Wimbledon made a decision, which was required because Russian and Belarusians didn’t want to speak publicly [about the war],” said Svitolina. “For us, I think, it is very important to know that there are no bad people among us.

“That is why, if they cannot do that, then, unfortunately, they have to be banned because propaganda of Russian sport is huge and politics are 100 per cent involved in sports in Russia.

“As you can see from the situation with the doping, the politics is very involved in Russian sport.

“To have players representing Russia is very tough to see because seeing the invasion of the army to our country is very painful to see.”

Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev has criticised Svitolina for asking Russian and Belarusian players to speak up against the invasion of Ukraine.

“No need to pay attention, this is not only my opinion, but also of lawyers,” Tarpischev said of the 27-year-old during an interview with Russia’s “If we make any statement we can be removed from some competitions.

“Now we are playing, everything is fine with us. It’s stupid to react at all. Who is Svitolina? A nobody,” he added. “Support from the [tennis] top players is always needed.

“Players and the [Russian] federation are grateful to all of the players who have already come out in defence of our athletes who were not allowed to compete [at Wimbledon].

“In my opinion, all the top players should support us and thus defend the competitive principle in the tennis world.”

Sergiy Stakhovsky joined the Ukrainian military reserve just 2 days after the invasion of his homeland by Russia

© Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainian former World No 31 who is serving in his country’s army in Kyiv, hit back at Nadal for describing Wimbledon’s ban of Russian competitors as ‘very unfair’.

Stakhovsky, who famously defeated Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013, joined Ukraine’s military reserves two days after the invasion started in February.

The 36-year-old’s experience of street patrols in Kyiv and missions elsewhere as an armed escort has left him unhappy with Nadal’s response to the AELTC’s decision.

“I think it’s very unfair [on] my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues,” Nadal, the 21-times Grand Slam told reporters. “It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war.”

Stakhovsky posted a message to Nadal on Twitter: “We competed together, we’ve played each other on tour. Please tell me how it is fair that Ukrainian players cannot return home? How it is fair that Ukrainian kids cannot play tennis? How is it fair that Ukrainians are dying?”

Later he added: “If anyone could please find a quote where Russian or Belarus players condemn the invasion in Ukraine? And don’t tag the ‘no war’ or ‘stop war’ [messages] cause these statements sound like if Ukrainians would stop fighting the war [it] would stop.”

The UK ban has the backing of the wider British public, according to several opinion polls, but apparently there is little support within the tennis world, with Novak Djokovic branding it ‘crazy’, while Andy Murray said that he was ‘not supportive of players getting banned’ but acknowledged that AELTC officials were dealing with an ‘unbelievably complex situation’.

19-year old Marta Kostyuk continues to rebuke Russian and Belarusian players for not denouncing President Putin's invasion of Ukraine

© Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk’s stinging rebuke of Russian and Belarusian players continues.

The 19-year-old and her family were forced to flee from the Ukraine following the invasion in February and Ukrainian players have spoken out against the atrocities happening in their home country.

While many players from Russia and Belarus insist they are ‘against the war’, Kostyuk feels they have not gone far enough in condemning the military action.

“I cut out all the contacts from all the Russian and Belarusian players I’ve been friends with because of the fact that we were friends, and they never considered coming out to me and talking to me,” she told Eurosport’s Reem Abulleil. “I think that’s a pretty good reason, no matter what their feelings are, I really don’t care.

“They pretend like nothing is going on, they pretend that they are the victims of this situation, which I honestly cannot get it.

“I don’t know how much time needs to pass before they stop making excuses for themselves to do whatever, to do anything, any decision, any movement.”

While some insist there is not much more they can do, other than condemn the invasion, Kostyuk says they should go further: “Let’s be honest, players who are at least in the top 50 have all the money to move their families,” she said. “Come on, it’s been two months, they have all the possibilities to move their family somewhere, it’s just the sacrifice that people choose not to make; it’s not like you have no choice. Everyone has a choice in life.

“I know people who fled Russia. Who left Russia because of this, because they cannot live in the country like this, they cannot live in a country where they are not allowed to speak, or they’re not allowed to do things.

“If your choice is to live and keep living in the country that doesn’t give you freedom, like basic human freedom… there are so many possibilities to do something. So many excuses for so many weeks.”

As for Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, she added: “There is a list of countries that, on the government level, signed or voted that everything that is happening in Ukraine is genocide.

“So based on that, which is not political, the decision was made, so let’s be clear about this.”



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