US Open lets Russian tennis players in after Wimbledon suspension

The US Open will allow tennis players from Russia and Belarus to compete this year despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, which prompted Wimbledon to ban these athletes.

Lew Sherr, CEO and executive director of the US Tennis Association, whose group runs the US Open, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that the USTA board decided to let Russians and Belarusians compete in the tournament because “they Concerns about keeping individual athletes accountable for the actions and decisions of their governments.”

Sherr said athletes from Russia and Belarus will play under a neutral flag at Flushing Meadows – an arrangement that has been used at various tennis tournaments around the world, including the French Open, which ended on June 5.

The US Open begins on August 29 in New York.

Since Russia launched its attacks on Ukraine in February, Russian athletes have been barred from competing in many sports, including the World Cup qualifying playoffs. Belarus helped Russia in the war.

Russia has also hosted two international team events in tennis where it was the reigning champion: the Billie Jean King Cup and the Davis Cup.

The All England Club, where the main draw for Wimbledon begins on June 27, announced in April it would ban all Russians and Belarusians from its fields – meaning current men’s No. 1, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, is ineligible to participate. Medvedev is the defending champion at the US Open.

The Wimbledon ban immediately drew criticism from the WTA and ATP, as well as from some prominent players such as defending champion Novak Djokovic.

In May, the WTA and ATP said they would not be awarding ranking points for Wimbledon that year, an unprecedented rebuke from the All England Club. Some players, including four-time Major champion and former No.1 Naomi Osaka, said they were considering sitting out Wimbledon.

The ATP has said any points earned at Wimbledon in 2021 will drop from a player’s record and no new points will be earned there that year. The WTA has not yet decided how last year’s All England Club ranking points will be treated, but no new points can be added based on how a player performs there this time.

“The WTA appreciates and supports the (USTA’s) decision, which reflects the fundamental principle that all players have an equal opportunity to compete based on merit and without discrimination,” said WTA CEO Steve Simon, adding, that his tour looks forward to working with the WTA USTA will provide “additional relief efforts to Ukraine.”

Sherr told the AP that what happened with Wimbledon – both the All England Club’s attempt to keep players out of certain countries and the tours’ response – played no role in the USTA’s decision to let Russian and Belarusian players in.

“Our discussion was really about the gist and really about the principles on both sides of this argument. This was not a commercial or an ethical issue,” he said. “There is a dispute on both sides. Are you perceived as a supporter of a government’s atrocious acts? And at the same time: Would you hold a single athlete accountable for this?”

Sherr said the WTA and ATP professional tours had organized a series of meetings with athletes from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus and various governing bodies in tennis, and the leaders of both tours had approached the USTA board before making his decision.

The USTA plans to offer additional financial support for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and will use the US Open as a platform to raise awareness about the war.

“This is a terrible situation and we, along with everyone else in tennis, absolutely condemn what is an unprovoked and unjust invasion of Ukraine by Russia and everything is framed in that context,” Sherr said. “As difficult as some of these decisions may be, none of them match the difficulties Ukraine is currently experiencing and the tragedy and atrocities.”

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