The world’s most prestigious tennis tournament is on a collision course with the sport’s global governing bodies after Wimbledon had its ranking points stripped by the ATP and WTA tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus.
According to the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the women’s and men’s professional tennis tours will not award ranking points for Wimbledon this year because of the All England Club’s ban on players from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine, an unprecedented move that stands as a significant rebuke of the sport’s oldest Grand Slam tournament.
The WTA and ATP announced their decisions on Friday night, two days before the start of the French Open – and a little more than a month before play begins at Wimbledon on June 27.
The All England Club (AELTC) said in April it would not allow Russians or Belarusians to compete, which drew immediate criticism from the WTA and the ATP, along with some prominent players, such as defending champion Novak Djokovic. It will bear watching how this whole episode affects the relationships among the various entities that have a say in the way tennis is run.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our tour,” the ATP said in a statement. “The decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP ranking system.”
Saying it made this move “with great regret and reluctance,” the ATP added: “Our rules and agreements exist in order to protect the rights of players as a whole. Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour. Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a tour that operates in more than 30 countries.”
The AELTC on Friday said it was considering its options and was in discussions with its Grand Slam colleagues.
“We remain unwilling to accept success or participation at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime,” the AELTC said in a statement.
“We therefore wish to state our deep disappointment at the decisions taken by the ATP, WTA and ITF in removing ranking points for The Championships.
“We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation and the position we found ourselves in, and damaging to all players who compete on Tour.”
WTA chief Steve Simon said the tour believes athletes participating in an individual sport “should not be penalised or prevented from competing solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”
“The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle,” Simon said.
“As a result of the AELTC’s position that it will not honour its obligation to use the WTA Rankings for entry into Wimbledon and proceed with a partial field not based on merit, the WTA has made the difficult decision to not award WTA ranking points for this year’s Wimbledon Championships.”
Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been slammed by top players such as 21-times Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal who labelled it unfair, while world number one Novak Djokovic said he did not support the decision.
The ban has ruled out a swath of top players, including men’s world number two Daniil Medvedev and last year’s women’s semi-finalist Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus as well as two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka.
Medvedev, speaking in Paris before the ATP decision was announced, said he would not resort to legal action against Wimbledon but admitted “there are a lot of mistakes” behind the controversial decision.
“If I can’t play, I’m not going to go to court for this one,” 26-year-old Medvedev said.
The ban has been widely condemned especially as Russian and Belarusian players are still allowed to compete at other tournaments including the second Grand Slam of the season at the French Open which starts in Paris on Sunday.
“It’s unfair for my Russian colleagues,” said Spanish star Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon winner, when the sanction was announced. “It’s not their fault what’s happening with the war.”