MELBOURNE — Pressure on Wimbledon to U-turn on their Russian and Belarusian player ban is ratcheting up after two more banned players reached the last four of the Australian Open.
Russia’s Karen Khachanov booked his spot in the last four after Sebastian Korda retired in the third set, and could be joined by Andrey Rublev if he can spring a surprise on Novak Djokovic.
Belarusian Victoria Azarenka is also into the semi-finals with Aryna Sabalenka hoping to join her, while Wimbledon champion and semi-finalist here Elena Rybakina represents Kazakhstan but was born and raised in Moscow.
By virtue of flying the Kazakh flag, Rybakina was able to compete at (and of course win) Wimbledon last year, but the likes of Khachanov and Azarenka were banned, and as much as half the field for the semi-finals could come from a group of players who were excluded from the British equivalent.
The All England Club (AELTC) are yet to make a decision on whether they will overturn their ban but the status quo is that players from Russia and Belarus will once again not be permitted to enter the tournament, despite the fact that they are taking part and succeeding in the global game at every other competition.
If the AELTC board decides to stick by its previous decision, it will make a mockery of Wimbledon as a truly elite grand slam tournament and maintain its status as something of a pariah among the players. They would also be excluding three of the top 13 men in the world, and six of the top 20 women.
Khachanov, asked in Melbourne if he had a message for SW19 organisers, said: “No message. Just whatever they decide. What can I do?
“I think my words would not change anything, in a way. So I don’t want to say anything, because there is just no point.”
Did the Wimbledon ban achieve anything?
“I think you better ask them, not me,” Khachanov added.
i understands a decision is expected to be made before the AELTC’s traditional spring press conference, which usually takes place at the end of April and that all options are once again in play.
Wimbledon organisers will also have to consider the reaction of the professional tours, who have already pulled several levers in order to discourage other tournaments from instating similar measures.
Russians and Belarusians remain free to compete on the tour and at the three other grand slams, and tournament organisers in England have been fined a total of $2m (£1.6m) for breaking tour rules on fair competition, as well as having ranking points withdrawn. The ATP have also threatened to bring further sanctions in 2023 if the ban continues, including removing the membership of British tennis from the tour.
Khachanov stands with Artsakh
In stark contrast to Wimbledon, who claimed that by not forcing Russians and Belarusians to sign a declaration promising not to support the war in Ukraine publicly they were taking an apolitical stance, Khachanov himself has sparked something of a political row at the Australian Open after his messages of support for the Republic of Artsakh throughout the tournament led to an official complaint to the ITF from the Azerbaijan Tennis Federation.
The breakaway state of Artsakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but it is home to around 120,00 people many of whom are ethnically Armenian.
Also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, the region has been the subject of two wars, most recently the so-called “44-Day War”.
A Russian peacekeeping force eventually enforced a ceasefire but a blockade of the only road that connects Artsakh with Armenia has left the republic with drastic food and electricity shortages.
“Stay strong Artsakh,” wrote Khachanov on a courtside camera, explaining that he is half-Armenian and wanted to show support for the people who are suffering there.
“I have Armenian roots,” Khachanov added.
“From my father’s side, from my grandfather’s side, even from my mom’s side. I’m half Armenian.
“To be honest, I don’t want to go deeper than that, and I just wanted to show strength and support to my people. That’s it.”