Wimbledon Begins Amid Tensions over Russia-Ukraine War

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Wimbledon began play on Monday, and a year after all players from Russia and Belarus were banned from participating because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, those players have been invited back. However, they had to sign a neutrality agreement before they were allowed to return to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The signed agreement requires that players not make any statements supporting the war, or state any support for the countries involved in the war. The 10 players from Ukraine were not required to sign the agreement.

Last year, Wimbledon went counter to the stance held by the International Tennis Federation, as well as the decisions made by the Australian Open, French Open, and U.S. Open. The competition refused to allow players from Russia and Belarus to compete at the Wimbledon Championships. That resulted in $1.75 million in fines and the stripping of all of Wimbledon’s ranking points. That also meant that the players who did compete at Wimbledon would not gain points toward their world ranking.

The reverse of the ban this year has reduced the portion of the fine levied by the Women’s Tennis Association, and all ranking points will now be counted. And this year, 18 players from Russia and Belarus are in the tournament, including the No. 3 seed on the men’s side, Daniil Medvedev of Russia, and the No. 2 women’s seed, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

The bookmakers at Sportsbetting.ag began the tournament with Medvedev paying +1600 to become Wimbledon champion, ranking him behind 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, and last year’s U.S. Open champion, Carlos Alcaraz.

Sabalenka began the tournament at +400, putting her behind four-time Grand Slam champion Iga Świątek of Poland and defending Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. Rybakina was born in Moscow and lives in Moscow, but she became a naturalized Kazakh in 2018, so she was not subject to last year’s ban.

Tensions in the Clubhouse, Applause on the Court

On the women’s side, Veronika Kudermetova, the second-ranked player from Russia, says that it is good to be back, but the locker rooms can be tense. When asked about how she gets along with players from Ukraine, Kudermetova said, “I say ‘hi’ to them. Some people, they reply. Some not.”

There was a fear that the reception from fans on the court would be even less hospitable. But so far, that has not been the case. In first round action on Monday, seventh seed Andrey Rublev of Russia took the court to tepid applause, but was sent off with a standing ovation after his victory.

After the match, Rublev was openly critical about last year’s ban, saying, “There were better options for Wimbledon. Because in the end, there was no difference. They did only worse to themselves.”

Rublev has also been an outspoken critic of the war since he won the Dubai Tennis Championships 17 months ago.

Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open this year and was just a semifinalist at the French Open, said after her first round win that it felt great to be back at Wimbledon, and she would only comment about her play and not her country. “I’m not going to talk about politics. I’m here to talk about tennis only. Please respect that. If you have any kind of political questions, you can ask the WTA or the tournament.”

The fortnight at Wimbledon ends on Sunday, July 16.

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