‘Very painful’ Wimbledon call splits tennis stars

Novak Djokovic intends to defend his title at Wimbledon and supports the decision by the ATP men’s tour to withhold ranking points from that tournament as a show of unity among players — even though the move will negatively affect his hold on the No.1 spot.

In response to a reporter’s question after his first-round victory at Roland Garros, Djokovic called the All England Club’s ban of players from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine “a mistake” and criticized Wimbledon organizers for their lack of communication.

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“They haven’t discussed it with anybody from ATP or any individual players — or, for that matter, Russian or Belarusian players — to just communicate and understand whether there is a common ground where both sides could be making a compromise and something could work out,” Djokovic said about the All England Club. “So I think it was a wrong decision. I don’t support that at all.”

He called it a “lose-lose situation for everyone.”

Russia, with help from Belarus, began attacking Ukraine in late February. The All England Club said last month it would not allow players from Russia or Belarus to compete when its Grand Slam tournament begins on June 27; the ATP and the WTA women’s tour responded by announcing they would not award ranking points to any players for results at Wimbledon.

Djokovic said he heard there might have been other options available to All England Club decision-makers than has been revealed, such as the possibility of exhibition matches to raise money to help Ukrainians in need.

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Djokovic has had his run-ins with ATP management in the past, and even worked to create a separate players’ association, but on this matter he said he backs the tour.

“Collectively, I’m glad that players got together with the ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, and showed to the Grand Slam that when there is a mistake happening — and there was, from the Wimbledon side — then we have to show that there’s going to be some consequences,” Djokovic said.

The ATP says that all players who earned ranking points at Wimbledon in 2021 (Djokovic earned the maximum 2,000 for taking the championship) will have those erased from their record as part of the usual 52-week system that counts someone’s best 19 tournaments over that span .

Whatever happens at the tournament in 2022 will have no bearing on a player’s standing.

“For me, or for the guys that did well last year, we are not only not going to have a chance to earn points, but we can’t defend them,” Djokovic said. “And there are some guys, obviously, who are not going to have a chance to earn points, of course. It’s a very unique and weird situation, I must say.”

Earlier in the day, four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said she was leaning toward skipping Wimbledon with no points on offer.

But Djokovic’s view was different.

“A Grand Slam is still a Grand Slam,” said the owner of 20 such titles, one shy of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record. “Wimbledon, for me, was always my dream tournament when I was a child. So I don’t look at it through the lens of points or of prize money. For me, it’s something else.”

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens also backed the plan to not award points at the All England Club.

Stephens, who is a member of the WTA council, said there was “a lot of mishandling” behind the scenes.

“I think the decision that was taken was the correct one,” Stephens said after reaching the second round at Roland-Garros.

“I think when you look at the principles and what our tour stands for, discrimination will never be tolerated. That’s exactly what’s happening.

“As long as that’s in play, there is no points, but we are not going to pick and choose when that works. You have to stand behind your principles and what the tour stands for, and we are one, right?

“I think a lot of players and people around were misinformed about what was happening and what was actually taking place in the weeks prior to a final decision being made,” she continued.

“I think that’s a tad bit unfair, but it’s the world we live in. We live in social media. We live in people talking and tweeting and all this stuff. So it is what it is, but I think the decision that was made was the best one for the tour and for the players.”

American John Isner won the longest match in tennis history at Wimbledon in 2010, but said he was not looking forward to the grass court Grand Slam this year.

“Right now, truthfully, I’m not that stoked about Wimbledon,” Isner said after winning his first-round match at Roland Garros on Sunday.

“I might just show up on Saturday and maybe I will play Monday and see what happens. Because our currency on tour is points.

“We play for that to keep our ranking high, to move up our ranking. It puts a lot of pressure on you to try to build your ranking or maintain your ranking. You’re not going to have that this year.

“So I think in a sense some players will be playing pretty free out there, because we don’t have that threat of, you know, of not improving your ranking going on.”

Dominic Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion, said players must keep the “big picture” in mind.

“I think it’s a tough decision for everybody, for some players it is probably very painful,” he said after exiting the French Open on Sunday.

“But we always have to keep in mind the big picture that Wimbledon or all our tennis world, it’s just really no problem at all.

“The real problem is there in Ukraine and let’s hope that there is peace very soon again.”

Ons Jabeur, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon last year, said “a lot of players are disappointed” by the decision.

“I wish we had points, if I did quarter-final, for me the main concern is … are they going to keep the last year’s points, how are they going to replace them, because it’s not fair if we drop all the points without us defending anything, especially some people had finals, semi-finals,” she said.

“So it is a very, very tough decision. I’m just going to try to grab as many points as I can in the grass season in the other tournaments.”

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