Australian Open champion Rafa Nadal has come out swinging in defence of Russian and Belarusian tennis players after they were barred from competing at this year’s Wimbledon tournament.
The decision was made by tournament organisers The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an attack that is being assisted by neighbouring Belarus.
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.
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Nadal, a 21-time grand slam champion, argues the tennis stars from those countries, including Russian men’s world No.2 Daniil Medvedev and Belarusian women’s world No.4 Aryna Sabalenka, are not responsible for the war and therefore should not be punished for the situation.
“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, which begins on June 27.
Action against Wimbledon and other British tournaments run by the AELTC could include the removal of ranking points.
Nadal, 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 sentiment was 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.
“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 Serb 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.
Djoker heartbroken over Becker jailing
Meanwhile, Djokovic has spoken of his heartbreak at the jailing of his former coach Boris Becker.
The three-time former Wimbledon champion was jailed for two-and-a-half years in London this week for hiding 2.5 million pounds ($A4.4 million) worth of assets and loans to avoid paying his debts.
Becker remained high-profile following retirement through his work as a TV pundit and as a successful coach of Djokovic for three years from December 2013.
Speaking ahead of the Madrid Open to reporters in the Spanish capital, Djokovic said: “Just heartbroken for him.
“He’s a friend, a long-time friend, a coach for three, four years, someone I consider close in my life and has contributed a lot to my success in my career.
“I’m not going to get into details of the verdict, because I’m not in a position to do that, but, as his friend, I’m super sad for him. It’s not much that you can say.
“I just hope he will go through this period that he has to be in jail and that when he comes out he’s able to live his life – I don’t know if we’ll use the word ‘normal’ because life is definitely changing for anybody going to prison, especially for that long of a time.
“I don’t know how things will turn out for him. I just pray for him. I hope things will be well in terms of his health, his mental health, because that’s going to be the most challenging part.”
Although not on the same scale, Djokovic has had plenty of challenges of his own this season, especially the furore that surrounded his attempt to play at the Australian Open and ultimate deportation from the country.
He will contest just his fourth tournament of the season in Madrid this week having reached the final on home soil in Belgrade last weekend.
Djokovic admitted mental scars remained, saying: “Of course I have never experienced anything similar to what I experienced at the beginning of the year, and I did not know how that’s going to affect me.
“I still have to deal with it to some extent. It’s not as powerful that it was in the first two, three months of the year. I feel like the more I play, the more I’m in this environment, the more comfortable I feel.
“I’m happy that I’m back on track in terms of being able to play in tournaments and having clarity in terms of schedule. So hopefully I will be able to get the best out of myself, particularly in grand slams.”
– With AAP