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Sergiy Stakhovsky, the former Ukrainian tennis star, has described the professional tours’ decision to strip rankings points from Wimbledon as “a shameful day for tennis”, adding that “To say that I am disappointed in @atptour would be understatement.”
Stakhovsky, whose career high came when he defeated Roger Federer on Centre Court in 2013, has been serving in the Ukrainian military as part of the resistance to Russia’s invasion. He offered strong views on Twitter on Saturday in support of the All England Club.
“Never would expect that anyone can stand on the side of invaders and murderers,” he wrote. “But it seems to me that even my fellow players feel sorry for invaders and collaborants from rus/blr [Russia/Belarus] … Players which in 85 days where [sic] not able to produce any clear message of condemnation of invasion into Ukraine.”
Another former Ukrainian player, Alex Dolgopolov, also weighed in, tweeting: “In these hard times, Wimbledon is on the right side and will stay with its perfect reputation." Dolgopolov, who is also part of Ukraine’s defensive effort, added: “As for the rest, it’s their choice.”
There is a reason Wimbledon is probably the most known tennis competition. Points or no points, there are things way bigger than tennis and in these hard times, Wimbledon is on the right side and will stay with its perfect reputation👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
As for the rest, it’s their choice https://t.co/ULaw8cqIDd
— Alex Dolgopolov (@TheDolgo) May 20, 2022
There was a further backlash over the tours' decision from a senior Government source who told Telegraph Sport ministers were ready to come to Wimbledon’s aid over what was branded an “outrageous” decision, and one that had sparked “fury” in Whitehall.
Accusing the ATP and WTA of acting out of “narrow self-interest”, the source added: “In their words, they condemn Russia, but in their actions, they prefer to give a propaganda victory to Russia.”
The storm over Wimbledon’s Russia ban will have far-reaching consequences, both for tennis’s power-brokers and participants. In the short term, these are almost certain to include a promotion for Daniil Medvedev – the leading Russian player – from world No 2 to the top of the ladder.
On Friday night, the two tours – WTA and ATP – announced that they were stripping rankings points from Wimbledon in retaliation for what they call a “discriminatory” position on Russian and Belarusian players.
There is already concern, however, that the tours’ position will hurt the workforce more than the tournament itself. On a practical level, the people who will suffer most will be those who performed well at Wimbledon in 2021 but will be unable to defend their points. The ATP have confirmed that points from last year’s event will be wiped at the end of this year’s tournament, in line with the sport’s rolling 12-month ranking system.
There is a cruel irony in the fact that world No 1 Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to lose the 2,000 points he collected by claiming last year’s Wimbledon title, even if he defends his crown. So while Medvedev will not be permitted to play, he will move ahead of Djokovic anyway. Meanwhile, the seven-time champion Serena Williams will be dropping off the rankings table altogether in July.
Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics – a former Wimbledon junior champion – also expressed his frustration on Saturday at losing his 360 rankings points from last year’s run to Wimbledon’s quarter-finals. He is one of several players – also including 2021 finalist Matteo Berrettini – who will be unable to prevent their world ranking from slipping significantly after the Championships.
“No chance to defend them?” said Fucsovics of his rankings points, in a social-media post published on Instagram on Saturday. “Are you serious ATP Tour??? From 60 [in the world] I will drop to 130.”
Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic – who stopped Emma Raducanu’s dramatic Wimbledon run in the fourth round last year – finds herself in a similar position, with around a third of her rankings points now under threat because of the tours’ decision.
Unlike the ATP, the WTA have yet to decide whether to freeze last year’s Wimbledon’s rankings. But Tomljanovic said “I don’t think that they’ll carry them over from 2021, they’ll get wiped and then you don’t really have a chance to defend your points. That’s very unfair in my opinion - but sometimes unfair things happen and you’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
Although the ATP and WTA player councils have both supported stripping rankings points from Wimbledon, the wider playing bodies clearly have many reservations, with British No 2 Dan Evans leading a campaign against the idea. Up to 90 players – male and female – are believed to have expressed their opposition to the tours’ stance.
Could the All England Club still find a way of reinstating rankings points? Their statement of Friday night said that they were “reserving their position” – legal jargon which suggests that some kind of challenge could be on the way.
However, it is not immediately clear how the AELTC can overturn the rankings-point decision, given that 1) excluding Russians and Belarusians places them in breach of their agreement with the tours, and 2) the government’s position is still advisory rather than being a mandate.
Another element of the AELTC statement said: “We are also in discussion with our Grand Slam colleagues.” This felt like a thinly-veiled threat, pointing towards a potential power struggle between the four majors and the two tours.
The agreement between tennis’s seven main stakeholders (the other one being the International Tennis Federation) is up for renewal at the end of the season. If tensions continue to rise, it is possible that the majors could decide to launch a tour of their own via a shadow rankings system.
Whatever happens, this looks like being a tipping point for the game. The ATP and WTA are clearly frustrated with the AELTC’s habit of going it alone, and have thus decided to make a stand on this complex issue. As the ATP complained on their website, “The bottom line is … the decision [to ban Russian and Belarusian players] was made in isolation.”
For their part, the people at Wimbledon insist that they kept other bodies in the loop, but their absence from the tour in recent weeks has been ill-judged. Tournament director Jamie Baker was expected to arrive in Paris on Sunday, but the AELTC have been under-represented at recent tournaments in Madrid and Rome, at a time when they should have been pressing the flesh and canvassing support.
It remains to be seen whether the lack of rankings points will dissuade any players from attending Wimbledon. The prizemoney fund on offer is expected to approach £40m, with around £50,000 available simply for showing up and losing in the first round. But there may be some individuals, particularly on the women’s side, who dislike playing on grass and thus seize the chance to stay away.