Why will the Russian war in Ukraine affect Wimbledon?

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By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer

The usual trophies and prize money will be on the line for Novak Djokovic, Iga Swiatek and other top players at Wimbledon, but there’s a significant change there this year: no one will earn ranking points, a precious currency in tennis, when the game begins. June 27.

The women’s and men’s professional circuits announced on Friday that they would not award those points at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament due to the All England Club’s decision to ban players from Russia and Belarus following the invasion. from Ukraine.

The WTA and ATP said they were reacting to what they called “discrimination”.

Here’s a look at how this unprecedented move happened and what it means:

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WHAT’S HAPPENING IN UKRAINE?

Russia, with the help of Belarus, launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine on February 24. The shelling and siege of the southern port city of Mariupol killed more than 20,000 civilians, according to Ukraine, including strikes on a maternity hospital and a theater where civilians had taken shelter.

WHY DID WIMBLEDON BAR THE RUSSIANS AND BELARUS?

The All England Club, which organizes the oldest Grand Slam tournament (Wimbledon was first held in 1877), announced in April that it would not allow players from Russia or Belarus to participate in the event in 2022. Chief executive Sally Bolton defended the club’s decision as following a UK government directive, and she cited a “responsibility to play our part in limiting the possibility of Wimbledon being used to justify harm done to others by the Russian regime”.

HAVE OTHER SPORTS BANNED RUSSIAN ATHLETES?

Yes, including in football, where the Russian men’s team was expelled from this year’s World Cup qualifiers. Figure skating and athletics are among other sports to have taken action against Russian and Belarusian athletes. In tennis, players from these countries have been allowed to compete – including at Roland-Garros, the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, which begins in Paris on Sunday – but as “neutral” athletes who are not not identified by their nationality.

WHO CAN’T PLAY WIMBLEDON?

The hottest Russian tennis player at the moment is Daniil Medvedev, who won the US Open last September and briefly reached No. 1 in the men’s rankings this year. Another top male player is Andrey Rublev, who is ranked No. 7 in the ATP. WTA No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka, who was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon a year ago, and former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, hail from Belarus.

WHY CANCEL RANKING POINTS?

The WTA and ATP condemned the invasion of Ukraine, but said it was not fair for the All England Club to stop certain players from playing due to the actions of their countries’ governments.

“Our rules and agreements exist to protect the rights of players as a whole,” the ATP said. “Unilateral decisions of this nature, if left unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour.”

The International Tennis Federation has also withdrawn its ranking points from the junior and wheelchair events at Wimbledon.

Taylor Fritz, the highest-ranked American and No. 13 seed at French Open, said he thinks “most players are okay” with athletes from Russia and Belarus being allowed to play at Wimbledon. The ban, he said, “is a sign to show support for Ukraine, but you’re just punishing people based on where they were born…and they can’t really change that.”

HOW DO RANKING POINTS WORK? WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?

The official WTA and ATP rankings date from the early 1970s and are currently based on each player’s best results over the previous 52 weeks (women count their best 16 tournaments, men their best 19). Swiatek is the 28th woman to serve at the top of the WTA; Djokovic is one of 27 men to lead the ATP and has spent more weeks there than anyone. Wimbledon and the other three Grand Slams award 2,000 points each to the women’s and men’s singles champions, more than any other event. In addition to other metrics such as trophies or prize money, rankings are a way for fans, sponsors and others – including the players themselves – to understand where athletes fit in the hierarchy of the sport. . Technically, any tennis event that does not award ranking points is considered an exhibition.

HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?

Representatives from the ATP, WTA and ITF said they were not aware of any previous instances of ranking points being taken away from a tournament.

WILL ANY PLAYERS SKIP WIMBLEDON BECAUSE THERE ARE NO RANKING POINTS?

It’s too early to know, but even without ranking points, Wimbledon still offers a lot of prestige and millions of dollars in prize money. “If you win it, I think you’d still be pretty happy,” said Jessica Pegula, an American seeded 11th at Roland Garros. “But I think it just depends on each person – how they feel, their motivation.”

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE US OPEN?

It is not yet known whether players from Russia or Belarus will be able to participate in the US Open, the last Grand Slam tournament of the year, which begins in New York on August 29. Widmaier wrote in an email, “and are in active dialogue with Ukrainian and Russian/Belarusian players, tours, other Grand Slams and other relevant parties.”

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