LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) – A first ever Grand Slam final featuring two players from Belarus remains a possibility, while a Russian also remains in contention at the Australian Open – a scenario that will not have gone unnoticed by the organizers of Wimbledon.
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka continues her quest for a third Australian Open crown when she meets Moscow-born Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan in the semi-finals on Thursday, before Aryna Sabalenka takes on Poland’s Magda Linette.
On Friday, Russia’s Karen Khachanov will meet Stefanos Tsitsipas as he bids to reach his first Grand Slam final.
Khachanov, Azarenka and Sabalenka were all absent from Wimbledon last year when the grass-court Grand Slam took the unilateral decision to exclude players from Russia and Belarus as a consequence of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special operation”.
Wimbledon and the other British tournaments had their ranking points taken away, and Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association was hit with huge fines from the women’s WTA and the men’s ATP as a result of its ban.
With the conflict in Ukraine showing no signs of ending, a decision is pressing on Russian and Belarusian players competing at the All England Club.
“I hope. I don’t know. I mean, the last information I heard was maybe a week ago that the announcement will be in a couple of weeks,” Russian Andrey Rublev, who lost his quarter-final to Novak Djokovic, told reporters in Melbourne.
“We are all waiting. Hopefully we will be able to play. I wish, I would like and I would love to play. Of course, Wimbledon is one of the best tournaments in our sport.”
Russia and Belarus have also been banned from team events such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup, but the likes of Rublev, Azarenka and Sabalenka are free to play anywhere else as individuals, albeit with no country affiliation.
Australian Open organizers even banned Russian and Belarusian flags from Melbourne Park last week after a complaint from Ukraine’s ambassador to the country.
While on Wednesday, organizers Tennis Australia said four supporters with “inappropriate flags and symbols” are being questioned by Victoria Police after the quarter-final between Rublev and Djokovic. Read more
Tennis Australia did not provide details, but a video emerged on social media showing a fan on the steps of Rod Laver Arena holding a Russian flag with the image of Putin on it.
Sabalenka has faced regular questions about the situation and was asked again on Wednesday after beating Donna Vekic.
“I will say that of course it affects me a lot. It was hard and it’s still hard. But I just understand that it’s not my fault. Like I have zero control. If I could do anything, of course I would it, but I can’t do anything,” she said.
‘SITUATION NO ONE WANTS’
Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic has called on Wimbledon to allow Russian and Belarusian players to enter the 2023 tournament, a view also supported by American great John McEnroe.
“Obviously this is a terrible situation that goes on in the war and people deal with it in different ways,” McEnroe told Reuters in a video conference hosted by Eurosport.
“I disagreed last year that Wimbledon didn’t allow the Russians or Belarusian players to play. I would disagree with that this year. I don’t know what they will do.
“It’s a situation that nobody wants. So hopefully something will change that will allow the players to play. It happens that in our sport some of our best male and female players come from the two countries. They should not, I don’t believe, be punished for something they have nothing to do with.”
Wimbledon is said to be considering lifting the ban, but is unlikely to make an announcement until it reveals plans for the tournament at its spring press conference in April.
American icon Billie Jean King said this week that she would support such a move.
“I hope they (Wimbledon organisers) do (lift the ban). Just keep it the way the others are. Life is too short,” King was quoted as saying in The Times.
Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge
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