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As Russian and Belarusian players contend for championships at the Australian Open, tennis legends Billie Jean King and John McEnroe are urging Wimbledon to lift its ban on players from those countries, with King saying “life is too short.”
Players from both countries were barred from The All England Club in 2022 over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the tournament stripped of ranking points as a result.
Wimbledon officials are considering whether to do the same again this year but King called on them to drop the ban.
“Just keep it the same way as the other ones are. Life is too short,” the tennis legend told reporters Wednesday at the Australian Open. “I think they should get prize money. Just have them play and get their money.”
Players from Russia and Belarus are competing at the Australian Open as independents under a neutral white flag.
Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarusian ranked No. 5 in the world, advanced to her first Grand Slam final by beating Poland’s Magda Linette 7-6(2), 6-1 on Friday.
Another Belarusian, two-time major champion Victoria Azarenka, lost in the earlier semifinal to Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, 7-6(4), 6-3.
“She’s an amazing player,” Sabalenka said on court. “She’s playing great tennis, super aggressive and she already got one Grand Slam so she kind of had this experience playing the final. And yeah, it’s going to be a great final, I’m really looking forward for this final.”
Sabalenka said Wednesday she has “no control” over the war in Ukraine.
“I would say that of course it affects me a lot,” she said of the Wimbledon ban. “That was tough and it’s still tough. But I just understand that it’s not my fault. I have zero control. If I could do something, of course I would do it, but I cannot do anything. Just having this understanding is really helping me to stay strong.”
Rybakina is into her second major final despite being seeded No. 22 after missing out on rankings points for winning Wimbledon
“It’s the ranking points, for sure,” King said. “They have to have it. Rybakina, they’ve seeded her 22, but because she won Wimbledon she’s not (seeded higher).”
On the men’s side, Russian No. 18 seed Karen Khachanov will face No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in one semifinal with nine-time champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia facing American Tommy Paul in the other. Djokovic took out another Russian, No. 5 Andrey Rublev, in the quarterfinals.
Djokovic has urged Wimbledon to allow Russian and Belarus players to enter the 2023 tournament, a view also backed by American great John McEnroe.
“Obviously this is an horrific situation which is going on in the war and people deal with it in different ways,” McEnroe told Reuters.
“I disagreed with it last year that Wimbledon didn’t allow the Russians or Belarusian players to play. I would disagree with it this year. I don’t know what they’re going to do.
“It’s a situation that no one wants. So hopefully something will change that allows the players to play. It happens that in our sport, some of our top male and female players come from those two countries. They shouldn’t, I don’t believe, be punished for something that they have nothing to do with.”
(AFP contributed reporting)