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Russia’s Wimbledon ban leaves players caught in the middle

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

For the men, those are players ranked 1st, 8th, 22nd, 40th and 43rd: four Russians and one Belarusian. For the women, those are players ranked sixth, 13, 20, 21, 30, 35, 47, 69, 78, 83 and 87: eight Russians and three Belarusians.

“Yeah, I think it was tough,” Cameron Norrie, the top-ranked British player at No. 12, said on Saturday. “It was tough, you know. Morally they did the right thing. I like that they were pretty into it. But I feel sorry for a couple of players, especially Daniil. [Medvedev, No. 1 in the world,] and Andrew [Rublev, No. 8], who have a good chance of winning the tournament. So I really feel sorry for those guys who are so committed to tennis and are so professional.”

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With Medvedev and No. 2 Alexander Zverev absent, the latter due to ankle surgery, this is the first time in the ranking’s 49-year history that Wimbledon will be without the top two men. But Wimbledon has had a much more destroyed 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 semifinalist last year; No. 13 Daria Kasatkina of Russia; No. 20 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a two-time Australian Open champion; and No. 21 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia. As for the men, Medvedev, 26, and Rublev, 24, have not made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon, but both reached that stage last year. Medvedev is the reigning US Open champion, and Rublev is a five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, including at the French Open this month.

When the players arrived for the interview sessions over the weekend, they reiterated their views on the bans. Novak Djokovic, the three-time defending champion and 20-time Grand Slam champion was ranked third in the world, but the top seed here, referenced the 1990s when his war-torn homeland, then Yugoslavia, was sanctioned and disqualified. for events such as the 1992 European Championship in soccer, the 1994 World Cup, the 1996 European Championship and, to some extent, the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.

Measured and respectful in his comments, Djokovic said: “What I can say is that a son of war, several wars, actually, during the 90s, I know what it feels like to be in the position. But on the other hand, I can’t say that I totally agree with banning Russian tennis players, Belarusian tennis players, from competing indefinitely. I just don’t see how they’ve contributed to anything that’s really going on. I mean, I don’t feel like it’s fair. … I feel like they deserve to win. They deserve to compete. They are professional athletes. None of them have supported any war or anything like that. It is very sensitive. Once something like this happens on a big stage, anything you actually say as a person doing from one country or another, you know, will be judged one way or another. I understand both sides. It’s really hard to say what’s right and what’s wrong.”

In player feedback this weekend, the issue seemed absorbed and resolved, if still fuzzy, as was the idea that the ban will mean players won’t get ranking points for their performance at Wimbledon, an inconvenience for those who long to rise.

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

“I feel like I understand both sides of the situation,” said Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American French Open finalist who hasn’t shied away from her own voice on important issues. “For me, it is a difficult decision just because I know many Belarusian and Russian athletes on the women’s side. I know, at least the ones I talked to, they are definitely not supportive of what is happening in Ukraine right now. But I also understand the side of trying to put global pressure on the Russian government to withdraw from Ukraine, maybe how sports can…impact that.”

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“I’ve talked about this several times,” said Andy Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion. “I understand why the decision was made. I also know quite a few Russian and Belarusian players on the men’s side. Friendly with them. I get along with them. Yeah, I feel bad for them too. I can also understand the frustration on your side. In terms of the ATP response [about rankings points]I really didn’t agree with that. I just don’t see who it helps.”

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

In a London Sunday weather dream, the embassies were quiet, even as the sidewalk outside the Russian had narrowed to allow for metal barricades. Just a few steps away, the embassy of the Czech Republic had Czech and Ukrainian flags in its front window. Further down the street, near Holland Park and the Ukrainian embassy, ​​the statue of Saint Volodymyr, ruler from 980 to 1015, had been adorned with various flags. Nearby signs read “THE WORLD KNOWS THE TRUTH” and “STOP THE WAR NOW.”

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