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Home ยป Russian And Belarusian Players To Return To Wimbledon As Dkokovic Targets More Grand Slams

Russian And Belarusian Players To Return To Wimbledon As Dkokovic Targets More Grand Slams

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When the covers come off for the start of play at Wimbledon for the first time in two years, Russian and Belarusian players will be warming up and getting ready to take their place in the first round.

They will play as neutrals, just as they have been on the rest of the tour since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Their participation at SW19 and all the grass court warm-up events have been subject to them signing neutrality agreements, along with all their support staff.

They also can’t receive funding from the Russian state or be sponsored by companies controlled by the states and any flags, logos and symbols showing support for their countries and the war are obviously a no-go.

This approach has been approved by the government, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and tennis’s three governing bodies – and the players are clearly relieved to be allowed back.

The Russian men’s third seed, Daniil Medvedev, said it was hard to miss Wimbledon last year.

“I love being back here,” he said. “Last year I followed the rules. I had an amazing time with my family, we spent a good vacation but it’s always better to be at Wimbledon. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world.”

And it appears that in the locker room there is sympathy for those players who, for the most part on the tennis tour, compete as individuals.

Image: Tennis fans camping in the queue Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime was hitting on the Wimbledon warm-up courts with Russian Andrey Rublev who famously, at the start of the war and after winning a tournament, wrote on a TV camera lens: “No war please.”

The 11th seed had this to say about the return of the Russians and Belarusians to the British grass courts: “I think it’s a good thing that they’re back.

“For me, a guy like Andre Rublev, I like him personally, he’s a good friend. He’s a funny guy, charismatic whenever you talk to him outside the courts.

“It’s good to have these players back. I don’t think they hold responsibility for what is happening. Andre’s expressed himself that he supports peace. He doesn’t support what is happening, I don’t want to talk for him but ultimately they’re not responsible. I think what they’re asking for is to compete in a sport they love, like I do, like everyone does.”

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Whatever the thoughts of the players, the fact is the British tournaments were left with little or no choice but to welcome the Russian and Belarusian competitors back.

If the ban had been extended for another year, it would have had disastrous consequences for tennis in this country.

The sanctions threatened by the Women’s Tennis Association and Association of Tennis Professionals would have meant the cancellation of tournaments such as Queens and Eastbourne and the termination of the LTA’s membership of the governing bodies.

Effectively, British tennis would have been kicked out of the professional game, leaving the grass court tournaments up for grabs in another country – not to mention the loss of revenue.

Image: Andy Murray on the practice courts So as the 2023 Championships get under way with a full compliment of countries, the question is who will still be standing in two weeks’ time?

It’s hard to look past the second seed, reigning champion Novak Djokovic. The Serb is going for five in a row – a record equalling 8th in total (level with Roger Federer) and a record extending 24th Grand Slam title.

With Roger Federer now retired and Rafael Nadal absent this year due to injury and planning to retire next year, Djokovic remains as motivated at 36 as ever.

“My objectives and goals are very high and still at this stage of my career I’m able to perform well, move well and win grand slams,” he said.

“That’s what actually matters most right now – Grand Slams. I’m going to try and play well here at Wimbledon and maybe get another shot at the title. Same for the US Open later this year and as long as there’s still the drive I’ll be here and when the drive disappears then I guess I’ll consider to stop as well.”

As is traditional at Wimbledon, Djokovic, last year’s winner, will play the opening match on Centre Court. He takes on world number 67 Pedro Cachin of Argentina.