Olympic champion Alexander Zverev did not want to get involved in a political debate about the lifted Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian tennis professionals.
"I know there are other opinions, but I'm going to Wimbledon to play tennis there and not to be a politician," replied the 26-year-old when he addressed the sensitive issue in preparation for the classic lawn became.
A year after their sensational exclusion as a result of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the players from Russia and Belarus are now returning to Wimbledon. On the tournament homepage, the decision of the organizers, which was announced at the end of March, has meanwhile slipped far down. With the start of the prestigious Grand Slam on Monday, however, the topic is back in focus.
As with the French Open, the political world of sport, which officials like to characterize as supposedly apolitical, could also collide in London. The Belarusian Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka and the Russian top ten professionals Daniil Medvedev and Andrei Rublev are among the well-known professionals who will be able to play for the title again on the sacred lawn from July 3rd to 16th.
"I think Andrej in particular spoke out very, very often against the war. I don't think you can punish him for being born in a country that is now at war," said Zverev: The decision would have been for him all sporting consequences. "What changes that? That Daniil Medvedev and Andrei Rublev are there - which doesn't make it easier for everyone," said the Hamburger. The German number one for women, Tatjana Maria, did not want to comment further on the subject in Bad Homburg: "It's not in my hands."
Decision not made out of conviction
When the Wimbledon organizers published their about-face about three months ago, they made it clear that they were not acting out of conviction. It was a result of punishment and the pressure of possible consequences. One is still of the firm opinion that an exclusion "was the right course," said the British tennis association LTA.
But the "considerable penalties" imposed by the powerful player associations ATP and WTA, including the "real prospect of our membership being terminated" in the event of another start ban, would have left the organizer almost no other choice. As reported by the BBC, the LTA was fined $750,000 by the WTA and $1 million by the ATP.
Wimbledon attached conditions to this year's participation of the Russian and Belarusian professionals. The athletes have to sign a declaration of neutrality. And they are not allowed to express support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in connection with participation they are not allowed to receive any funding from the state.
Last year, Wimbledon played a special role and was the only one of the four Grand Slam tournaments to go against the course of the WTA and ATP. In response, the ATP and WTA had decided that no world ranking points would be awarded at Wimbledon. This was also a disadvantage for Maria and Jule Niemeier, who surprisingly made it into the semi-finals and quarter-finals. With the points they would have made a leap forward in the world rankings. This time the game is again for points.
Becker "glad" about the Russians' start
In general, Russian teams are left out in tennis in the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup nations competitions. At the ATP and WTA tournaments, Russian and Belarusian tennis professionals are still at the start as neutral athletes even after the start of the war. As a rule, tennis professionals are not financially dependent on state support systems and are considered cosmopolitans due to the many trips, so the argument goes.
He was "happy" about the admission of Russian and Belarusian players, said three-time Wimbledon winner Boris Becker, explaining: "They are not all supporters of the war, they all spoke out against it, they play for themselves and not for their country. "
But for months it has become clear how difficult it is when Ukrainian professionals meet Russian or Belarusian professionals in everyday sports. For example, after a match against Russian or Belarusian athletes, Ukrainian athletes do without the handshake that is customary in tennis. In Indian Wells, the Ukrainian Lessia Zurenko did not play against Sabalenka and later justified this with a panic attack.
In Paris at the French Open, politics had repeatedly become an issue. Sabalenka twice boycotted a press conference after being confronted with political issues. The Ukrainian Svitolina was booed by parts of the audience after her controversial quarter-final against Sabalenka when she refused to shake hands - although Sabalenka was waiting.
"I think it's not easy for the Ukrainian players to take part in competitions on the tour," said Polish world number one Iga Swiatek, who has always shown herself to be a supporter of Ukraine, in Bad Homburg: "I want to focus more on to help you."