The parties entrenched in the Wimbledon ranking points decision, it seems, are digging in, with players and onlookers flabbergasted that this issue is being blown out of proportion when people are dying in Ukraine, where cities are destroyed, and genocide is being committed.
The sport has been used in politics, and we are kind of public personas, and we have some impact on people. It would be nice if the people who are making decisions were making decisions that are going to stop Russia's aggression. I feel, like, I have that responsibility, but on the other hand, I don't have much life experience and I'm aware of that. And, yeah, when I'm going to be ready to say more, I will. Iga Świątek
The All England Lawn Tennis Club debated long and hard before deciding to not accept entries from Russian and Belarusian players at The Championships, taking a principled stance against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a position that most sports have adopted at the recommendation of the International Olympic Committee.
The 7 governing bodies of tennis opted for a more lenient approach, allowing individuals to continue to compete on the ATP and WTA Tours while excluding national Russian and Belarusians from team competitions.
That decision in itself was questionable, as it implied tacit acceptance of the horrific actions being taken in Ukraine, but while some disagreed, the majority acquiesced.
Wimbledon’s decision, supported by the majority of the British public according to several surveys, prompted outrage on the part of the ATP, WTA and, surprisingly, the ITF, who accused the AELTC of discrimination and elected to punish The Championships by removing its ranking points.
This sparked division, with many players objecting to not being consulted, others supporting the decision and a growing wave of dissent coming from another polarised group, who call it unfair.
There are many editorials decrying the situation, while the chatter on social media has become vitriolic.
Wimbledon has been cast the villain, despite the Club staunchly explaining that there can be no propaganda opportunities proffered to Putin’s regime in Moscow, who orchestrated the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and are condoning terrible atrocities in the country while adversely impacting the world economies.
The ATP and WTA chose to retaliate by withdrawing their ranking points, citing breach of contract by the AELTC, and while there was an expectation that they would leave the points collected by players at Wimbledon last year on their record for another 12 months, they opted against that, thereby causing harm to the majority of their members for the sake of just a few.
As it stands, players will lose 100 per cent of the total they earned last year because it is not now possible to defend them this year.
Stuart Fraser reports Wimbledon is exploring the possibility of legal action against both organisations, and that sources have told The Times discussions have already taken place with lawyers surrounding a potential breach in the long-standing agreement with the governing bodies that allows the AELTC to offer points for match wins at the championships.
It is understood that the other 3 Grand Slams are considering offering their support as part of a joint action, which would be an escalation of a dispute that has overshadowed the first few days of the French Open.
Talks are set to take place this week when Ian Hewitt, the AELTC Chairman, and Sally Bolton, the Chief Executive, arrive at Roland Garros on a pre-arranged visit.
Fraser adds that some players are hoping for a compromise that may allow for 50 per cent of ranking points to be retained from Wimbledon 2021 for another 12 months.
Meanwhile players in Paris are both attacking and defending the decisions.
Karolina Pliskova, last year’s Wimbledon finalist and former World No 1 from the Czech Republic will lose 1,300 points, and could drop 10 places from her position of No 8 as a result.
“It’s completely the wrong decision — not even the one from Wimbledon, more the one from the WTA,” Pliskova said. “It’s super tough, unfair and bad.”
Australian No 1 Ajla Tomljanovic also hit out, saying the decision is ‘very unfair’ and that she will be badly hit by the loss of her 430 points.
The woman who took over at the top of the domestic rankings after Ash Barty’s sudden retirement reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, after beating Emma Raducanu on the way, and will plummet down the rankings despite having worked hard to earn a career-high ranking of 38.
“I don’t think they’ll carry over the points earned from 2021, they’ll get wiped, and then you don’t have a chance to defend your points,” the 29-year-old said. .”That’s very unfair, in my opinion.
“It’s going to be very strange to go to Wimbledon where no points will be on offer. Sometimes unfair things happen and you’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Tomljanovic added there was still no way she would boycott a points-free Wimbledon.
“Of course, I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said. “Wimbledon is Wimbledon – and if you win it and get no points, of course you’d still take it.
“But I’m definitely going into that small bracket of players who are going to be really affected. But it’s out of my control, so I’ve just got to try to do well regardless of that.”
The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, has expressed ‘deep disappointment’ about the move, which could have major ramifications at the top of the rankings, with World No 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic about to lose 2,000 points.
Ironically, it is a Russian who is likely to take his top spot – Daniil Medvedev, the current World No 2.
Djokovic, who has been vocal about his displeasure over Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players from competing, called the decision a ‘mistake’ but revealed he plans to compete at The Championships this year.
“I’m glad that the players got together with ATP and the governing bodies,” he said. “It shows to the Grand Slams that when there is a mistake – there was from Wimbledon side – that there will be consequences.
“Wimbledon is still Wimbledon, it was my dream as a kid, I never looked at it for points or prize-money, but I understand the group of players affected.
“It’s a lose-lose situation. On a personal, individual level, I have been very negatively affected by that.”
Hungarian player Marton Fucsovics expressed his amazement at a decision that will see him lose all ranking points from his run to last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals, ensuring he will drop out of the world’s top 100, while Italy’s Matteo Berrettini is also frustrated as he will lose 1,200 ranking points from his run to the Wimbledon final.
Sloane Stephens, however, who is a member of the WTA Player Council, fully supports the decision.
“I think the decision that was taken was the correct one,” Stephens said. “I think that there is a lot of things that happened behind the scenes that the press are not aware of, and I think there has been a lot of mishandling of how everything was handled.”
WTA Chief Executive Steve Simon said that his organisation believed ‘that individual athletes participating in an individual sport should not be penalised solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries’.
“Obviously I support our CEO, I support my council, I support the players. The decision that’s been taken obviously wasn’t taken lightly,” said Stephens, a French Open runner-up in 2018.
“I think when you are backed into a corner and that’s all you can do, I think that’s why the decision was made, and I support it.”
Wimbledon’s ban rules out a swathe of top players, including Medvedev and last year’s women’s semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, as well as two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka, another WTA Player Council member.
Norway’s Casper Ruud said it was particularly unfair on grass-court specialists that they cannot earn ranking points at Wimbledon.
“It’s tough to mix politics with sport,” said Ruud, a clay court specialist, after winning Saturday’s Geneva Open final. “Wimbledon is not where I make most of my points, so for me, it’s doesn’t matter too much when you think about the points, but for other players it’s of course unfair that they cannot even get the chance.”
Dominic Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion, sought to put the issue into perspective.
“I think it’s a tough decision for everybody, for some players it is probably very painful,” he said after exiting the French Open on Sunday. “But we always have to keep in mind the big picture that Wimbledon, or all our tennis world, it’s just really no problem at all.
“The real problem is there in Ukraine, and let’s hope that there is peace very soon again.”
Ons Jabeur, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year, said ‘a lot of players are disappointed’ by the decision.
“I wish we had points, if I did quarter-final, for me the main concern is… are they going to keep the last year’s points, how are they going to replace them, because it’s not fair if we drop all the points without us defending anything, especially some people had finals, semi-finals,” she said. “So it is very, very tough decision.
“I’m just going to try to grab as many points as I can in the grass season in the other tournaments.”
Ukrainian pro Lesia Tsurenko lost to World No 1 Iga Swiatek on Monday in the French Open’s first round, and spoke out afterwards, describing as disconcerting how few have denounced Russia’s invasion or approached her to express sympathy, or even to discuss what is happening in Ukraine.
“For me, personally, it’s tough to be here,” Tsurenko said, “Just because I don’t get much words said about the support of my country.
“And it’s just tough to be with people who look like they don’t understand. It’s just tough… I’m Ukrainian, and there’s a war in my country, and it’s tough.
“I think five players spoke to me. Maybe four or five. Maybe a few more coaches. … But what can I do?”
Tsurenko, who is from Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, considered going home in February ‘and try to help there, in some way; I don’t know in which way, but just in some way’.
She noted that only one tournament has taken a stance, Wimbledon, by banning players from Russia and Belarus from competing.
“I want people to understand that war is terrible, and there is nothing worse in this world than a war,” Tsurenko said. “I think, when it’s not in your country, you don’t really understand how terrible it is.
“I don’t know if I can ask players to care more, but I would like to see that from the players, from the WTA, from ATP. I would like top players just to support more, and to show more understanding of what is really going on.”
In Paris, though, some are sitting on the fence, avoiding the issues.
“I don’t have a clear opinion. I understand both sides,” 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal said after winning Monday.
Naomi Osaka said after her first-round loss that she is ‘leaning more towards not playing’ Wimbledon.
“I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition,” she said, without referring to Ukraine at all.
Swiatek wears the Ukraine national colours, blue-and-yellow, on a ribbon pinned to her white hat, a sign of solidarity that she has displayed in recent weeks.
She is from Poland, Ukraine’s ally that has welcomed millions of refugees, but is also carefully avoiding making any kind of strong statement.
“Well, honestly, I was trying to avoid saying straightforward what I think, because every solution is going to be wrong for some people,” she said. “The sport has been used in politics, and we are kind of public personas, and we have some impact on people.
“It would be nice if the people who are making decisions were making decisions that are going to stop Russia’s aggression.
“I feel, like, I have that responsibility, but on the other hand, I don’t have much life experience and I’m aware of that,” she added. “And, yeah, when I’m going to be ready to say more, I will.”
US Open champion Emma Raducanu was asked whether she agreed with the decision to turn Wimbledon into a glorified exhibition this year.
“It was a really tough decision but, for me, I personally will play whatever,” she responded. “I have a got a lot of points coming off from Wimbledon. But for me it doesn’t really matter, I just enjoy competing.”
Raducanu earned 180 points last year by reaching the 4th round, while the British No 1 has accumulated only 368 points from her 15 tour-level matches this season, from just 7 wins to 8 defeats.
At this rate of progress, she would finish the season around 50 in the world, a respectable enough position, but normally Wimbledon would present a good chance to cash in on big points.
“I would have, of course, loved the opportunity to have defended points that are coming off,” said Raducanu.“But I am just focused on what I am here to do. I am here to play tennis.
“I don’t want to get involved [in the rights and wrongs of the decision] because it is not my place at all.
“I am sure that there have been many discussions, and it wasn’t an easy decision at all. I think that I am really, again, still looking forward to play at the Championships in front of a home crowd.”
Raducanu’s opponent on Wednesday is a Belarusian, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and she was asked about playing one of the Russian or Belarusian players for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s definitely a pretty sad situation for all of the players,” Raducanu responded. “I wouldn’t wish that upon any of the players, but I think that we are all here to compete at this tournament.
“When we are out on the court, it’s still the same, you still want to win and nothing is going to change in that sense.”
Australian tennis player Daria Saville, wearing yellow and blue, urged Putin to stop the war and the Russian army to return home in a post on social media.
“Already I can’t really go back to Russia, no,” she told Australian media at the French Open. “I definitely do support the Ukrainian players … imagine not having a home.”
Saville, whose parents live in Moscow, represented Russia in tennis until emigrating to Australia 7 years ago.
She competed under her maiden name Gavrilova until marrying Australian tennis player Luke Saville last year, and expressed mixed feelings about Wimbledon’s ban.
“[It’s a] grey area because I have way too many friends in Russia,” said the 28-year-old. “[Daria) Kasatkina is one of my best friends. I want her to play, but they also understand the decision, too.
“I still treat everyone the same. I don’t change how I treat people and … nothing has changed for me.
“There is worse things happening [than] not playing Wimbledon.”