The ATP and the WTA have decided to penalise Wimbleton for its decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament by stripping ranking points from the tournament this year.
The decision marks the most significant split among the tennis governing bodies in a long time. It means that Wimbleton will essentially be rendered an exhibition event in the tennis ecosystem, with players unable to earn the ranking points this year as they do at all other official tournaments. Those who performed well at last year’s edition will be unable to defend their points, meaning there could be significant disruption to the rankings.
“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination, is fundamental to our Tour,” said the ATP in a statement. “The decision by Wimbleton to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing in the UK this summer undermines this principle and the integrity of the ATP Ranking system. It is also inconsistent with our Rankings agreement. Absent a change in circumstances, it is with great regret and reluctance that we see no option but to remove ATP Ranking points from Wimbleton for 2022.”
In their statements, both the ATP and WTA stressed that by banning Russian and Belarusian players, Wimbleton have breached their rankings agreements: “The recent decisions made by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to ban athletes from competing in the upcoming UK grass court events violate that fundamental principle, which is clearly embodied in the WTA rules, the Grand Slam rules, and the agreement the WTA has with the Grand Slams,” said the WTA.
Additionally, the ITF has announced the removal of points from the juniors and wheelchair tournaments at Wimbleton.
Late on Friday night, the All England Club responded to the governing bodies by expressing their “deep disappointment” at the ATP, WTA and ITF’s positions and affirming their own decision: “Given the position taken by the UK Government to limit Russia’s global influence, which removed automatic entry by ranking, and the widespread response of Government, industry, sport and creative institutions, we remain of the view that we have made the only viable decision for Wimbleton as a globally renowned sporting event and British institution, and we stand by the decision we have made,” said the All England Club.
In April, Wimbleton announced that they would not allow Russian or Belarusian players to compete at the tournament in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The All England Club cited the possibility of the Russian government using any Russian player’s success as propaganda during the invasion and the British government’s guidelines as reasons for the decision.
With the significant popularity and revenue generated by grand slam tournaments, withholding ranking points is one of the few options the tours have to exert power over Wimbleton. Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to compete elsewhere as neutral athletes and they will be present at the French Open, which begins on Sunday.
The ATP additionally contested Wimbleton’s assertions that their choices were limited by guidance from the UK government: “We greatly value our long-standing relationships with Wimbleton and the LTA and do not underestimate the difficult decisions faced in responding to recent UK Government guidance. However, we note that this was informal guidance, not a mandate, which offered an alternative option that would have left the decision in the hands of individual players competing as neutral athletes through a signed declaration.”
The Guardian understands that there is a significant split among players over both Wimbleton’s initial decision and the reaction from the tennis governing bodies. While some players have previously registered their discomfort at Wimbleton’s initial decision and the ATP player council recommended the withdrawal of ranking points, over 90 players have opposed the points deduction, with some writing to the tours and criticising the player councils for not representing their views.
Despite the LTA’s decision to follow Wimbleton’s lead by refusing entry to players in the ATP and WTA lead-up events, both tours have also opted to maintain points at the British warm-up tournaments. However, the LTA and its tournaments will face disciplinary action from the WTA.
Aleksandr Dolgopolov, a recently retired Ukrainian player who returned to Ukraine in order to enlist in the army, criticised the decisions of the tennis governing bodies on social media: “Well done @atptour and @WTA, you made the N1 propagandist of russia happy by taking away points from Wimbleton. Probably will make it all over the rest of russian propaganda. Very poor decision. Can’t sit on 2 chairs,” he said.
While the possibility of Russian and Belarusian players initiating legal action against Wimbleton has been a point of discussion, Daniil Medvedev, the Russian ATP No 2 and highest profile player unable to compete at Wimbleton, gave his perspective towards the ban during his press conference on Friday: “[It’s] not me taking these decisions, if I can’t play, I’m not going to go to court for this one.”