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The Break: Wimbledon's ban of Russian and Belarusian players leads to the tours stripping SW19 of ranking points

“It’s hard, really. It’s hard to know what is right, what is wrong,” Novak Djokovic said on Monday, when he was asked about the tours’ decision not to award ranking points at Wimbledon this year.

“It’s kind of, I would say, lose-lose situation for everyone.”

Those words—“lose-lose”—sum up a lot of the players’ feelings in Paris, as they look ahead to the next Grand Slam event in London. Few agree with Wimbledon’s ban on players from Russia and Belarus. But few are in love with the ATP-WTA-ITF’s response.

“I don’t agree with either [decision],” said Denis Shapovalov, who won’t be able to defend the points he earned from his semifinal run at SW19 last year. “I think, first of all, if you have a pro competition, that everybody should be competing…[but] I also don’t agree with the ATP to take out all the points.”

Naomi Osaka echoed those sentiments. “I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition,” Osaka said. “Whenever I think something is an exhibition, I can’t go at it 100 percent.”

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John Isner said he wasn’t “stoked” about going to the All England Club now. Dan Evans said he wants to play for points, but he also doesn’t like to hear Wimbledon criticized. Benoit Paire doesn’t think everyone should have to make this type of sacrifice for just a few banned players. Others lamented the lack of communication, from the tournament and the tours, about the reasons for their decisions.

“It’s a pretty tricky situation,” Iga Swiatek said, “and every solution is going somehow wrong for some part of people or players.”

The most upbeat assessment, relatively speaking, may have come from Rafael Nadal: “Is not that one side is doing a negative thing and the other one is doing the good thing,” Rafa said. “Everyone half.”

Wimbledon and the tours likely feel that they weren’t left with any good choices. The tournament said it was following a U.K. government directive to “limit Russia’s global influence.” The ATP and WTA said they sticking by their philosophy that ranking points can only be earned in events where every tour member has an opportunity to play (the ATP doesn’t award points for Davis Cup or Laver Cup for the same reason). And yet the result has been to undermine the importance of the sport’s most prestigious event.

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“It’s a pretty tricky situation,” Iga Swiatek said, “and every solution is going somehow wrong for some part of people or players.”

“It’s a pretty tricky situation,” Iga Swiatek said, “and every solution is going somehow wrong for some part of people or players.”

I agree that Russian and Belarusian players should be allowed to compete. Professional tennis is a sport of individuals, not countries. When the tours were founded 50 years ago, each was seen as a way to free the players from the control of their national federations. In that sense, I support the ATP and WTA for living up to that history, and standing up for their banned players.

The terrible thing is that when you stand up for Russians and Belarusians, you’re not also standing up for Ukrainians. Alexander Dolgopolov, a former player from Ukraine who joined the country’s military during the war, expressed his appreciation for Wimbledon’s ban in a tweet that was shared by his countrywoman Elina Svitolina.

“Points or no points, there are things way bigger than tennis,” Dolgogolov wrote, “and in these hard times Wimbledon is on the right side and will stay with its perfect reputation.”

There can only be one side to this story for Ukrainians like Dolgopolov and Svitolina: Their country and people are being destroyed. While many of us like to say that a Russian tennis player is not the equivalent of Putin, and has nothing to do with the war, that’s not an easy perspective for a Ukrainian to share.

“I don’t feel good to play against Russian and Belarusian players just because it reminds me what is going on in my country,” Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko said on Monday. “It’s painful, I’ll be honest, it’s very painful and I’m always hoping not to get them in my draw.

“I want people to understand that war is terrible and there is nothing worse in this world than a war. I think when it’s not in your country you don’t really understand how terrible it is.”

Wimbledon did what it felt it had to do. The tours did the same. Nobody is happy. There’s nothing worse in this world than a war, as Tsurenko says. Unfortunately for a global game like tennis, where both sides in the conflict will face each other across a net, there was no way to stay out of it.

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