As talks take place in Paris to try to resolve the differences between Wimbledon and the player bodies, the verbal sparring continues over the banning of Russian and Belarusian players from The Championships next month, and the subsequent reactionary withdrawal of points by the ATP, WTA and ITF.
I’m sorry for Russia and Russians, but they are the ones causing all the trouble, and all the ATP players are actually paying the price. Medvedev will be No 1. This is absurd. We should actually take a position for all the players in the world, and it’s the opposite that is being done… We are all penalised by this.” Benoite Paire
The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club is a unique, privately owned establishment, steeped in its traditions and slow to change. It follows its own path but does modernise in time, as testified by its announcement this week that it is to drop the titles ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ from the women’s honour board for lady champions.
Even this decision has brought the Club criticism, lighting up social media with adverse comments.
No longer will it continue with the long tradition of listing champions as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs.’, using a player’s married name if appropriate, in an effort to make the boards look the same as the men’s, which do not have ‘Mr’ included on their names.
Chris Evert’s 3 titles have appeared as Miss C.M. Evert in 1974 and 1976, while her 1981 title was listed as Mrs. J.M. Lloyd because she was married to John Lloyd from 1979 to 1987.
“I have always used my maiden name in tennis,” Evert told AP via a text message. “I began my career, became a champion, and ended my career as Chris Evert!
“As proud as I was to be married to John at the time, it was my name that deserved to be on the honour board!!!”
In 2007, female players were finally given the same prize money for winning The Championships and, up until 2019, umpires used ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ when announcing the names in the women’s competition, but no more.
Wimbledon, however, will continue to refer to the Gentlemen’s Singles and the Ladies’ Singles, adamant that these events will not become the ‘men’s’ and the ‘women’s’.
“If you thought that the change was decades, if not centuries, overdue, you would not be alone,” Billie Jean King tweeted, adding that it was ‘terrific to see Wimbledon making this important change’.
Compared to the furore that is raging over the lack of points for The Championships, though, this innovation pales into insignificance as player criticism seems to be tipping the balance towards some sort of compromise.
Opinions remain divided, with some saying that Russia’s invasion and Vladimir Putin’s regime, abusing his electoral foes, poisoning dissidents, suppressing an independent press, and invading Chechnya and Crimea, are the worst war crimes in the west since Hitler, and something must be done.
Others claim sport is above politics and tennis players are just athletes trying to bring people together.
The ATP and WTA say Wimbledon’s decision to not accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players is discriminatory, ignoring the atrocities happening in Ukraine, and disagreeing with the AELTC’s position that they do not want to put Russian players in potential danger by requiring them to sign some kind of anti-Putin forms, and will not provide the Kremlin with any kind of propaganda opportunity.
“The reality of the situation is there are no winners, and I feel enormous sympathy for the Russian and Belarusian players that cannot play,” Tim Henman, who sits on the Club’s management committee, said on Eurosport. “When you go through the circumstances presented to Wimbledon, the directive from the government is players are not allowed to play as neutral athletes, like on the tour at the moment.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk launched an attack on the WTA over Belarusian Victoria Azarenka’s role on its Players Council, saying: “Victoria Azarenka is in the players’ board, making decisions about points in Wimbledon, where she’s not even participating, and saying that she has no personal interest in making decisions,” the 19-year old said. “Just the fact that she’s present there on the calls, doing whatever. It’s ridiculous.”
Kostyuk added that it has left her feeling invisible to the council that is supposed to represent her.
“I would say 80-85 per cent of the players had nothing to do with the [WTA] decision,” she told Reuters on Tuesday. “It’s so ridiculous, I couldn’t believe it.
“None of the players’ representatives contacted me. None of them asked about my opinion, what I think. It’s like Ukrainian players don’t exist.
“I’ve been trying to be as vocal as possible, but you feel hopeless most of the time about the situation.”
On Monday Azarenka addressed her role on the council, saying: “When I have any of those conversations, I don’t look at myself, and if I am affected, I look at the bigger picture.”
Fellow council member Jessica Pegula said they were available to speak to any player about their concerns, while Sloane Stephens staunchly defends the WTA’s position.
“The decision that was taken was the correct one,” Stephens said earlier in the week. “There are a lot of things that happened behind the scenes that the press are not aware of, and there has been a lot of mishandling of how everything was handled.”
On the men’s side, Australian veteran John Millman defended the ATP Player Council, saying: “Without really any consultation, a unilateral decision was made to ban players. It just goes against what tennis is about.
“I hate all conflict. But, also, I don’t like unilateral decisions. There was an opportunity to have the Russians [and] Belarusians play. There were two options – recommendations, not even laws – but recommendations [that were] given by the UK government.
“I heard whispers, ‘oh, it’s coming from the government’. If it’s coming from the government, get the British government to say ‘no, we’re banning them, we don’t want them to play’. Then I’d feel sorry for Wimbledon that they’re being pushed into a corner.”
Kostyuk praised World No 1 Iga Swiatek’s support of Ukraine, wearing a blue and yellow pin during her matches, but criticised the top men’s players for denouncing the Wimbledon ban.
“I mean, look at what Rafa [Nadal] said, look at what Novak [Djokovic] said. How can you get the support from the tour when top three players say these things?”
There has been a noticeable split in player opinions in Paris this week, as a number bemoaned the points decision with some suggesting Wimbledon is now essentially an ‘exhibition’ event.
“I would love to go to get some experience on the grass court, but I’m the type of player who gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up,” Naomi Osaka, the former World No 1, said. “I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points it’ll be more like an exhibition.
“I know this isn’t true, but my brain just feels like that way, and whenever I think of something like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100%.
“I didn’t even make my decision yet, but I’m leaning more towards not playing, given the current circumstances.”
This prompted 2-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray to insist The Championships ‘will never be an exhibition’.
In a series of posts on his official Twitter account, the 35-year-old Scot wrote: “I’d hazard a guess that most people watching on centre court @Wimbledon in a few weeks time wouldn’t know or care about how many ranking points a player gets for winning a 3rd round match
“But I guarantee they will remember who wins. @Wimbledon will never be an exhibition and will never feel like an exhibition. The end.”
Legend of the game Martina Navratilova also hit back at Osaka when she appeared on Piers Morgan Uncensored, saying: “First of all I couldn’t care less if there were no points given, I always played for the trophies, not the points and not the money. So for me it was Wimbledon and nothing else, everything else came in second.”
The Czech-born American claimed there was a time when she didn’t even know her tournament win at SW19 had taken her to World No 1 until told in a press conference.
“So the points, it’s not an exhibition,” she continued. “I don’t understand that view, that players wouldn’t play because there are no points. You are playing for computer ranking? I just wanted to hold that trophy, that wonderful rose dish.”
Many believe the ATP and WTA have ‘got themselves into a hole’ while Wimbledon has been a bit ‘heavy handed’.
“I don’t agree with either [decision],” Denis Shapovalov said. “If you have a pro competition, then everybody should be competing.
“I also don’t agree with the ATP to take out all the points. The most guys it’s affecting are the guys in the top rankings. Obviously Novak, me, Hubi, Berrettini… We’re going to drop a lot. They could have gone with it a different way, maybe keep 50 percent [of the rankings].”
Benoit Paire has been particularly vocal: “We’re rallying against Wimbledon. I think it’s a pity, because players do not understand this decision. Ninety-nine percent of players want to have points and play the tournament as before.
“I want to know if the ATP wants to defend players, or Russia? The question is: why didn’t they talk with players upstream? Nobody told us about this.
“I’m sorry for Russia and Russians, but they are the ones causing all the trouble, and all the ATP players are actually paying the price.
“Medvedev will be No 1. This is absurd. We should actually take a position for all the players in the world, and it’s the opposite that is being done…We are all penalised by this.”
Interestingly, Medvedev has reiterated his desire to play at Wimbledon, even if no ranking points are involved, and the ban could be lifted.
“I wanted to play Wimbledon so much, it’s one of my favourite tournaments but I respect the decision,” the 28-year-old told AFP at the French Open. “Normally, I speak with some of the Ukraine players. We are not friends, we are just colleagues, but I support them 100%.
“I want the war to finish as soon as possible. I don’t support the war, and am against the violence. I just want peace.”
Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich also insists she is opposed to the ongoing war in Ukraine, saying she supports players from the embattled country 100%.
“I ask them how they feel. We talk about the war a little bit,” added the World No 47 from Minsk. “They have families there. It’s a very bad situation for them. We try to live our lives and find the positives. These are tough times.”
Sasnovich also said she respects the controversial decision of the ATP and WTA to strip Wimbledon of ranking points, a move that Wimbledon has called ‘disproportionate’.
Former 7-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe said on Eurosport: “I think it was a mistake by Wimbledon to do what they did, and it’s compounded by the fact the ATP and the WTA say there are no points. I don’t see how that helps the players.
“If the players really believe that Wimbledon made a big mistake by not allowing Russian and Belarusian players to play, then they should have boycotted the tournament [like in 1973 when Nikola Pilic was not allowed to play and most of the players opted out in protest]”.
ATP Player Council member Bruno Soares sheds a little hope on the situation, saying the Wimbledon ranking points decision could still change following talks with officials from the AELTC.
The 3-time Grand Slam champion said: “I get along well with all of [the board] but Wimbledon do it old school. It’s a very traditional tournament, very important. We just wish we had a little more of a voice there before the decision was made, not after.
“There is room for change, of course, but you need room to open up and be willing to work together,” the former doubles World No 1 added. “I hope [things will change] but it’s not in my hands. I think it’s all about conversation. It’s all about communication. It’s all about willing to work together.”
The AELTC has reportedly consulted lawyers about the situation and is looking for support from fellow Grand Slams, the Australian, French and US Opens.
Ukrainian players, who are living out of suitcases and suffering anxiety about what is happening in their homeland, understandably, support the Club’s decision.
“It feels horrible,” Anhelina Kalinina said. “I just go from tournament to tournament, hotel to hotel. I have no permanent base. I used to live and practice in Kyiv. Every two or three weeks I would go and spend two weeks there when I could. Now, we jump from one country to another. Yes, it’s just horrible.”
Her mother and father and brother, a student, still live in Kyiv: “My parents’ place was a little damaged; my uncle’s home has been completely destroyed,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like. My brother is just 18, what he’s going through, I don’t want to explain.”
Djokovic also has been talking about his break-away PTPA’s position on Wimbledon: “The PTPA will continue to exist despite everything. We cannot argue with the big powers because we are not recognised by the Grand Slam tournaments.
“The situation among the tennis players is not simple: there are more and more complaints. I spoke to the ATP and they told me that they would speak with the organisers of Wimbledon, but I don’t think it can change anything.
“The PTPA must exist to defend the voice of the weakest, tennis is an individual sport and many tennis players think about their own interest and not the collective one.”