Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal has been publicly called out over his criticism of Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes by a former tennis star now fighting in the Ukrainian army.

Sergiy Stakhovsky, who won four ATP titles and recorded a shock win over Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon in 2013, joined Ukraine’s reserve army amid Russia’s invasion earlier this year despite a lack of military experience.

The Ukrainian former world No.31 was clearly incensed by Nadal’s comments about Wimbledon’s controversial decision, after the Spanish superstar labelled the ruling “very unfair” to his “Russian tennis mates”.

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Stakhovsky responded on Twitter on Monday night, reminding Nadal about what was truly unfair about the whole situation.

“Rafa, we competed together. We’ve played each other on Tour. Please tell me how it is fair that Ukrainian players cannot return home?” Stakhovsky wrote.

“How it is fair that Ukrainian kids cannot play tennis? How is it fair that Ukrainians are dying?”

Rafael Nadal has been publicly called out by Ukrainian former tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Rafael Nadal has been publicly called out by Ukrainian former tennis star Sergiy Stakhovsky. Credit: Getty Images

The Ukrainian then hit out at Russian and Belarusian tennis stars who had failed to condemn Russian’s invasion.

“If anyone could please find a quote where Russian or Belarus players condemn the invasion in Ukraine?” Stakhovsky wrote.

“Did they say that bombing major cities in Ukraine (full of civilians) is a barbaric act?”

“Did they condemn the invasion into a sovereign country?

“And don’t tag the “no war” or “stop war” (signs) because these statements sound like if the Ukrainians stopped fighting the war would stop.”

Stakhovsky, 36, left his wife and family to join the Ukrainian army in March after retiring from tennis following the 2022 Australian Open.

He told BBC Radio Four: “I know how to use the gun. If I’ll have to, I’ll have to. I’m still not sure how I’ve done it.

“I know that it’s extremely hard on my wife. My kids don’t know that I’m here. They don’t understand war. They’re too little to understand what’s going on.”

Nadal hammers Wimbledon over ban

Stakhovsky’s criticism came after Nadal criticised the decision of Wimbledon organisers the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in response to Russia’s invasion.

The AELTC said it had been left with no alternative following a directive from the British government, which is reportedly concerned about the optics of a Russian or Belarusian winning the tournament and being handed their championship trophy by Kate Middleton, the royal patron of the AELTC.

Nadal, a 21-time grand slam champion, declared the tennis stars from those countries, including Russian world No.2 Daniil Medvedev, were not responsible for the war and therefore should not be punished for the situation.

Rafael Nadal of Spain walks on centre court at Wimbledon.
Rafael Nadal of Spain walks on centre court at Wimbledon. Credit: Andy Cheung/Getty Images

“I think it’s very unfair to my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. In that sense it’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war,” Nadal said after returning from injury at the Madrid Open.

“Let’s see what happens in the next weeks, if the players will take some kind of decision … well, there is one thing that’s negative, there are things that are clear. When the government imposes some restrictions, you just have to follow them.”

The ATP and WTA are both deciding whether to impose penalties on the tournament.

Action against Wimbledon and other British tournaments run by the Lawn Tennis Association could include the removal of ranking points.

Nadal, who is a member of the ATP Player Council, suggested the removal of points could be a suitable response.

“The 2000 points, whenever we go to the grand slams, they are really important and we have to go to those tournaments. So we will have to see the measures that we take,” he said.

Nadal’s sentiments were backed by world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who said he had been in touch with a number of Russian and Belarusian players to show his support.

Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, presents the Wimbledon trophy to Novak Djokovic in 2019.
Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, presents the Wimbledon trophy to Novak Djokovic in 2019. Credit: Getty Images

“It’s hard. I understand that there is frustration. ATP is going to, I guess, analyse the whole situation and understand what can be done,” the Serbian said.

“I still stand by my position that I don’t support the decision. I think it’s just not fair, it’s not right … now I guess it’s on player council, the tour management, to really decide along with the players what is the best solution in this situation.”

Tennis governing bodies have banned Russia and Belarus from international team competitions following the invasion, but individual players from the two countries are allowed to continue competing as neutrals.

The 2022 Wimbledon championships will be the first time that players have been banned on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War II era, when German and Japanese players were excluded.

The All England Club had justified its action in a statement first posted on Twitter.

“In the circumstances of such unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefits from the involvement of Russian or Belarusian players with The Championships,” the statement said.