International tennis was at war with itself on Wednesday night over the response to hostilities of an infinitely more profound kind.
The banning of multiple top 100 players from Wimbledon has left threats of potential legal action, and the possible removal of ranking points, hanging over a centrepiece of the British sporting summer.
Player bodies in the shape of the ATP and WTA Tours – which are representative organisations – are indignant over the prospect of members being excluded from high-profile opportunities to earn prize money and points.
Yet ultimately Wimbledon could not face the possibility of players from pariah nations lifting its trophies in this, of all years, being the Centenary of the Centre Court.
That precipitated Wednesday’s action, about which the ATP and WTA were only informed on late Tuesday afternoon. The Lawn Tennis Association – whose biggest funder by far is the Championships – operate the other grass court events and have felt obliged to fall in line with the flagship.
The All England Club are bracing themselves for legal action after banning Russian and Belarussian tennis players from participating at Wimbledon due to Russia’s war on Ukraine
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev will have to sit out of Wimbledon having been barred from playing
Victoria Azarenka is another who can’t compete at SW19 due to her Belarusian nationality
BIG NAMES WHO WILL MISS OUT AT SW19
World ranking: 2
Wimbledon 2021 result: Fourth round
World ranking: 8
Wimbledon 2021 result: Fourth round
World ranking: 4
Wimbledon 2021 result: Semi-finals
World ranking: 15
Wimbledon 2021 result: Third round
World ranking: 18
Wimbledon 2021 result: Second round
Now comes the blowback, for what many will view as simply a principled stance.
‘I smell a lawsuit incoming,’ tweeted outspoken American player Reilly Opelka. The more cerebral Australian pro, John Millman, offered: ‘I feel Ukraine would be better served if Wimbledon donated their entire profit in support aid instead of banning the Russian and Belarusian players.’
Wednesday night it seemed that the tour was marking its red line that players should not be penalised for where they come from, because they arrive from all sorts of places, such as China, for instance.
Wimbledon have viewed it differently, and by doing so have blown up the uneasy consensus that has existed across tennis since the war started.
A legal challenge from some direction is not out of the question, although the All England Club have taken the best advice and think they can withstand that. There will be wild talk of boycotts from a few quarters, but players will not be foregoing lavish prize funds in the name of supporting their Russian counterparts.
More realistic could be the idea of the player organisations taking ranking points away from the UK events, on the basis that it is unfair on those who cannot participate.
That would reduce them, temporarily, to the status of exhibitions. After cancellation in 2020 and Covid restrictions in 2021 this would further make it yet another abnormal year for Wimbledon.
The All England Club agonised over the decision and two weeks ago held out the hope, along with everyone else, that peace might intervene.
The ban comes in light of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine
American Reilly Opelka tweeted ‘I smell a lawsuit incoming’ in light of the decision at SW19
It reluctantly came to a conclusion that is likely to play better with the man and woman in the street than with ardent tennis types, or those in the bubble.
The support is certainly there from the Government, and Wimbledon is not constrained like the French Open, who await Sunday’s election result before planning its response. SW19 sources say they took into account Whitehall guidance, while ultimately making their own choice.
They will also have looked at the events of the Australian Open in January, when the drama around trying to get the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic in went right down to the wire, creating an unseemly fiasco.
So a firm decision was taken, although this is hardly the end of the matter.
The least that can happen is that the draw will be depleted. Men’s world No 2 Daniil Medvedev is out and so is No 8 Andrey Rublev. Highest casualty among the women will be No 4 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. None would be favourites but grass is unpredictable.
The All England Club agonised over the decision and hoped peace would prevent the outcome
Novak Djokovic was deported ahead of Australian Open in January due to vaccination status
There is sympathy from all quarters for the players from the two countries. At the start of the invasion Rublev scrawled ‘No War Please’ on a camera lens after winning in Dubai. With families back in Russia you can hardly expect them to make public denunciations, as had been ludicrously suggested by a Government minister.
Yet one also has to consider the Ukrainian players in all this. There has been heightening tension in the locker room in recent months.
Sportsmail understands that at Indian Wells in March one Ukrainian coach had his accreditation removed for taunting a Belarusian player after she had lost.
They at least will welcome Wimbledon’s course of action as tennis, heavy with East European players, staggers around its moral maze.
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