Wimbledon | Osaka, Bouchard and Thiem pull out as Dzalamidze renounces Russian nationality to play

Former World No 1 Naomi Osaka, Eugenie Bouchard and Dominic Thiem have pulled out of The Championships next week, the Japanese due to her Achilles injury, while the Canadian has not fully recovered to compete and the Austrian opting to play down at Challenger level, but all three also ruing the lack of ranking points.

Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam champion, announced her withdrawal on social media, as she continues to struggle with her Achilles tendon, posting: “My Achilles still isn’t right so I’ll see you next time.”

The Japanese suffered the injury in Madrid, forcing her to miss the WTA 1000 tournament in Rome in the lead up to the French Open, where she lost in the first round.

Last week she posted a video, saying: “Here’s me running on a underwater treadmill because my Achilles is being stubborn still (sic). I must be ageing or something.”

After her defeat at Roland Garros Osaka said she was not 100% sure if she would play on grass this season, adding that playing in the major without the possibility of earning points would not help her ranking, and the decision of the authorities had reduced her motivation to participate.

“I’m leaning more towards not playing given the current circumstances,” Osaka said in Paris. “I’m the type of player that gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up.

“I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition. The intention of this measure was good, but the execution is all over the place.”

Osaka, who is ranked 43rd, also pulled out of Wimbledon last year after taking time off for ‘personal reasons’ a month after quitting the French Open due to mental health issues.

A two-time champion at each of the hard-court Grand Slam events, the US Open in 2018 and 2020, as well as the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021, Osaka’s best showings at SW19 are 3rd-round losses to Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in 2017 and to eventual champion Angelique Kerber in 2018.

The Japanese saw her ranking dip to 85 earlier this year but she has risen back inside the Top 50 after a run to the Miami Open final in March, where she fell to World No 1 Iga Swiatek.


Eugenie Bouchard, a singles finalist in 2014 at Wimbledon, is still recovering from shoulder surgery

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

“I have decided to withdraw from Wimbledon due to the WTA’s decision to not award ranking points at this year’s Championships,” Bouchard said in a social media post.

The Canadian former World No 5, who has yet to return to the tour following surgery to her right shoulder last year, stated on Friday: “Due to my shoulder surgery, I get a limited number of protected ranking (PR) entries.

“As much as I love Wimbledon and skipping it makes me sad, using a PR entry at a tournament with no ranking points doesn’t make sense.

“I must choose wisely and use my PR entries at tournaments that will help me get back to where I want to be.

The WTA and ATP Tours stripped Wimbledon of ranking points after the AELTC decided not to accept entries for The Championships from Russian and Belarusian players in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

28-year old Bouchard, a singles finalist in 2014, had surgery on her right shoulder last June after an injury at the Guadalajara Open a few months earlier, dropping out of the rankings due to her lengthy absence from the tour.

The Canadian said she looked forward to returning to the circuit later in the year: “I am continuing my training and rehab and plan on returning to competition later this summer. I will now use my two Grand Slam PR entries for the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.”


Dominic Thiem is struggling to find form after a wrist injury and has opted to play Challengers instead of Wimbledon this year

© Adam Pretty/Getty Images

In similar circumstances, former French Open champion Thiem has also decided to skip Wimbledon, and will play a Challenger event instead.

The Austrian has failed to win a match at any of the tournaments he has played since his return from a wrist injury in March, and has historically struggled on grass.

“I’m definitely thinking to go back to Challenger level now for, maybe, one or two tournaments,” he said after the French Open after another first round loss. “Of course a match win would help a lot but, if I’m honest to myself, I was, in all the matches I played, still pretty far away from a win.”

With no chance to improve his lowly ranking of 343 at Wimbledon, Thiem will instead play Challenger events in Salzburg, Baastad, Gstaad and Kitzbuhel on clay.

The event in Salzburg will take place during the second week of Wimbledon, meaning Thiem could have played the grass-court major had he wanted to.


Natela Dzalamidze, shown here in action in Istanbul, has switched allegiance from Russia to Georgia and can therefore play at Wimbledon

© Onur Ãoban/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/Facebook

Meanwhile, a Russian doubles player has avoided the Wimbledon ban on competitors from her country by opting to play for Georgia as her father is Georgian and she holds dual nationality.

Natela Dzalamidze, a 29-year-old doubles player ranked No 44 in the world, was born in Moscow and now represents the country of Georgia, allowing her to compete in the women’s doubles with Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic when the tournament starts on Monday 27 June.

Dzalamidze said her decision to change nationality to Georgian was motivated by her desire to play at the Olympics and that being able to compete at Wimbledon was a bonus.

An All England Club spokesman told The Times they were powerless to interfere in Dzalamidze’s change of nationality, as this was a matter for the WTA and the ITF, and that she had satisfied the Club’s entry requirements.

“Player nationality, defined as the flag they play under at professional events, is an agreed process that is governed by tours and the ITF,” the spokesman said.

The WTA Tour said in a statement that Dzalamidze had complied with the regulations for changing nationality.

“In Natela’s case, she submitted a Georgian passport and ID as she has dual citizenship, and, as a result, her nationality has been officially changed within the WTA system,” it said. “This took place prior to the finalisation and release of the Wimbledon entry lists.”

Dzalamidze said the depth of Russian tennis and the country’s suspension from the Billie Jean King Cup, which players have to compete in to fulfil ITF participation requirements for the Olympics, led to the switch.

“My decision was made because I am focusing on my career and would like to have the chance to compete at the Olympic Games,” the 29-year-old told the Times.  “The first discussion I had with the WTA was during Indian Wells at the beginning of March.

“If I made the decision to play for Georgia and have a chance to play Wimbledon, why not? At the moment I have my best ranking and my perspective is now much better in Georgia.”

Wimbledon’s ban on players from Russia and Belarus has provoked a hostile reaction elsewhere in the tennis world, with the WTA and the ATP stripping The Championships of ranking points.

None of the other Grand Slam tournaments have followed Wimbledon’s lead, with the US Open announcing last week that Russian and Belarus players will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

Wimbledon’s ban has ruled out a swathe of top players, including Daniil Medvedev, the men’s World No 1 and the reigning US Open champion, as well as two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.


Fans will enjoy an extra day of play this year at Wimbledon on the Middle Sunday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The week before Wimbledon heralds the start of qualifying, as players old and new attempt to enter the SW19 main draw.

Last year, Katie Swan was the only Briton to come through the gruelling three rounds of qualifying to secure one of 16 places available in each of the main draws.

Maia Lumsden, Sarah Beth Grey, Talia Neilson Gatenby, Eden Silva, Ranah Stoiber and under-18 junior champion Mimi Xu are seeking to qualify in the women’s tournament while, on the men’s side this year, qualifying wild-cards have been awarded to Aidan McHugh, Felix Gil, Billy Harris and Arthur Fery, with LTA under-18 junior national champion Luca Pow also set to play.

American Jack Sock, the World No 109, is the highest-ranked player in the men’s draw, while compatriot Bernada Pera is the top-ranked female player at 116.

Matches are being broadcast live from Monday on BBC iPlayer and BBC Red Button, as well as the BBC Sport website and mobile app.

The BBC has comprehensive live coverage of Wimbledon from 27 June to 10 July.

Serena Williams has been awarded a wild-card invitation into the main draw, despite not having played a match since an injury forced her to quit after 7 games in the first round at Wimbledon last year.

The Club is now making a 145-year change after that particular drama, and will allow players to practice on the main courts in an attempt to avoid the nasty scenes that plagued the grass-court Grand Slam last year, when a number of players slipped and fell, injuring themselves on the slippery surface.

Williams was the highest-profile victim, and was followed by Adrian Mannarino, who also retired hurt against Roger Federer, while Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios were among other players to take scary tumbles.

Addressing the furore at the time, Wimbledon officials said the wettest two opening days of Wimbledon in almost a decade had led to additional moisture on the grass of Centre Court because the retractable roof had been closed for long periods.

Now officials are reportedly letting players practice on Centre Court and Court 1 so they can acclimatise to the conditions and ‘break in’ the surface.

Players will be granted access to the show courts in the lead-up to the tournament so the grass will be more worn and not as wet.

A tournament representative revealed on Sunday there would be ‘limited practice’ as part of an ‘enhanced playing in’ of the two main courts.

It is believed to be the first time in Wimbledon’s 145-year history that such a move has been made.

The three other Grand Slams all allow players to practice on the main courts before the tournament gets underway, but Wimbledon has always attempted to protect the surface to ensure it doesn’t get too worn out by the second week.

Also, for the first time this year, there will be play on the middle Sunday, which extends The Championships to a full 14 days.

By adding the Middle Sunday, 4th round matches will be spread over two days in line with the other Grand Slams, and the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ singles matches will be mixed through the quarter-finals, while the Mixed Doubles competition will be a 32-draw size with the final scheduled to take place on the second Thursday, following the Ladies’ singles semi-finals on Centre Court.

The staggered start times of Centre Court at 1.30pm and No 1 Court at 1.00pm, introduced in 2021, is retained and will run through until finals weekend when play on Centre Court will start at 2.00pm.


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