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Wimbledon’s Russian row: The view from inside the locker rooms of world tennis

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Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer - GETTY IMAGES
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – GETTY IMAGES

A band of united male players are taking on the biggest tournament in tennis, and the evidence so far suggests they have no intention of backing down.

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The player-led push to remove ATP ranking points from Wimbledon, in protest of what they deem as the unfair exclusion of Russian and Belarusian players, is the ultimate power move. Beyond a boycott, this was the worst case scenario the All England Club could have imagined when they took the decision last month to break away from the sport’s more measured approach towards players caught up in Putin’s war.

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If it goes through, with a final decision from the ATP board expected imminently, it will leave a stained on proceedings this summer.

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The players’ move has been perceived by some as a selfish one, in the face of death and destruction happening in Ukraine. But the stance does show that they are working as a true collective, a rarity in a mostly individual sport governed by multiple tours and organizations always working primarily towards their own interests. It is no small sacrifice either. The ranking points will be a major loss to many of the players’ professional goals, as a good showing at a grand slam event can change the trajectory of their season, but they seem to have adopted a ‘no man left behind’ stance so far .

Nadal embodied that on Wednesday, in his attempts to batten down the hatches and put a zip on the story, first reported by Telegraph Sport on Tuesday. Now the most successful male grand slam champion of all time, Nadal’s voice is of ever growing importance on the tour and he is by far the most prominent person on the council. With Andy Murray no longer a member of the player council, Novak Djokovic exiting to form his own controversial breakaway union two years ago and Roger Federer still sidelined with injury, Nadal is the only one of the supposed Big Four actively fronting up the conversations going on behind the scenes.

Though usually less controversial than some of his contemporaries, he is not devoid of opinion and he voiced it when Wimbledon’s ban was first announced, calling it “unfair” on the players involved. But Nadal is also a player who does not engage in hearsay, and has lived his career by the book. Despite the story leaking, he had no intention of sharing any details from what he called “private conversations” among him and the rest of the council on this spiky issue and he was clearly rankled by the prying questions. But for all his furtiveness, he made clear the council’s goals remained centered on prioritising every single players’ best interests.

This was in stark contrast to the Australian Open’s Covid vaccination crisis, which gripped the sport. Then, world No 1 Djokovic received no unified council response, nor were there active steps made to defend him when confined to a detention center and eventually deported. The key context was that he had already exiled himself from the council by forming his own union. It was also a situation taken out of tennis’s hands entirely by border force officials and the Australian government – a detail Wimbledon may argue rings true in this case too. Most importantly though, Djokovic had brought his predicament on himself by not getting vaccinated.

As a result the players had no qualms about speaking out either for or against his plight, Nadal in particular. He expressed obvious regret at the way the situation was handled and care for Djokovic’s wellbeing, but he was fully in favor of the world’s collective vaccination push, so his sympathies were understandably limited.

Meanwhile, the Russian and Belarusian players have found themselves banished through no fault of their own, as they have no hand in this war. Any early suggestion they should denounce Putin’s regime in order to ensure entry to Wimbledon were wildly fanciful, considering the mortal danger that could have put them or their family in. The withdrawal of ranking points from Wimbledon – if it sticks – will send a message to those absent from Wimbledon that they have support in their colleagues.

And, though the WTA is yet to make their intentions public, the ATP players moving first on it can only spell more trouble on the horizon for the Wimbledon organizers.



Source: sports.yahoo.com

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