Djokovic slams Wimbledon Russia ban as 'crazy' as Navratilova 'devastated' by decision

21 April 2022, 14:25

Novak Djokovic has joined Martina Navratilova in slamming the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon.
Novak Djokovic has joined Martina Navratilova in slamming the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Novak Djokovic has slammed Wimbledon's "crazy" decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players after nine-time champion Martina Navratilova was reduced to tears by the move in an exclusive LBC interview.

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The two tennis greats have led calls for the All England tennis club to revert its decision to prevent Russian and Belarusian individuals from competing at this summer's historic tournament.

The British Grand Slam has become the first tournament to prevent them from taking part in response to the war in Ukraine.

World number one Djokovic and nine-time Wimbledon champion Navratilova have joined the ATP and WTA in criticising the All England club.

Djokovic said: "The players, the tennis players, the athletes have nothing to do with war. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good."

An emotional Navratilova, who is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, said it was the "wrong decision" in an exclusive LBC interview.

Read more: 'Devastated' Martina Navratilova reduced to tears by Wimbledon ban on Russian players

Read more: Wimbledon bans top Russian and Belarusian stars from competing over Ukraine invasion

She was reduced to tears during Tonight with Andrew Marr as she recalled fleeing communist Czechoslovakia to live in the US when she was just 18 years old.

The 65-year-old said it was a "big ask" for Russian and Belarusian players to denounce their country in order to play at Wimbledon this summer, and said they would be putting their families and themselves at risk.

The All England Club’s main committee confirmed its decision on Wednesday, as hopes of peace talks fade as Russian troops continue to bombard the Donbass region of Ukraine.

Organisers said in a statement that "with deep regret" they would have to "decline entries from Russian and Belarusian players to The Championships 2022."

The move will be a huge blow for world number two Daniil Medvedev and women's number four Aryna Sabalenka.

While Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 2019, has also criticised the decision.

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She said Russian and Belarusian players should be asked for their views on Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. If they don't support Putin's regime they should be allowed to participate.

Navratilova became emotional as she was asked by Andrew whether the decision brings back the trauma she experienced, when she was accused of being too Americanised by the communist regime in Czech at the time.

She became an American citizen in 1981, angering the communist Czech regime, which immediately stripped her of her nationality.

She only reacquired her Czech citizenship in 2008.

The decision for many senior players, including Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka, will be "devastating", she explained.

"For most players, Wimbledon is the one event they really want to play and now this is completely beyond their control," she continued.

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"As a player growing up, this is the one you dream about the most.

"And now because of politics not to be able to play, unless you denounce your country and leave, and risk your family's wellbeing as well as your own, maybe never to be able to return to Russia.

"It's a big ask for the players to ask them this.

"What I had to go through, leaving my country, I would not wish that on anybody."

In a statement, the ATP said discrimination based on nationality constitutes a "violation" of its agreement with Wimbledon.

It states that player entry is based solely on ATP rankings.

"Any course of action in response to this decision will now be assessed in consultation with our board and member councils," the WTA said.

It "will be evaluating its next steps and what actions may be taken regarding these decisions".

The competition runs from June 27 to July 10.