COMMENT: ATP and WTA have abandoned players to pay the price for Wimbledon ban

Amid the great unknowns attached to Wimbledon this summer, Serena Williams being given a wild card does allow for us to be certain about one thing: It’s not been even remotely reduced to an exhibition event.

The removal of ranking points at The Championships this year has caused nothing but controversy and infighting throughout tennis’ already complicated landscape.

The debate has reached further than that too, with just about everyone having an opinion on the decisions that led us here. It is a debate that you’d think had no real wrong answers given the complex geo-political factors involved, and yet it is starting to fee like the ATP and WTA have managed to come up with one. Even more remarkably, they seem determined to stick with it too.

Before we wade into the debate ourselves it’s important to set off on the right foot.

The first thing I think you have to acknowledge is that the whole thing is, frankly, an incredibly difficult situation for everyone. The only true perfect solution is for Vladimir Putin to end his assault on Ukraine and its people.

Then, the second thing to concede here is that, ultimately, no matter what tennis does it’s not going to influence Putin. It’s not like he’s going to be watching twiddling his thumbs one day this summer, turn on his television, note that Daniil Medvedev is not at Wimbledon and decide that enough is enough in Ukraine.

As part of the BBC coverage of Queen’s this week, former British number one Andrew Castle accused the ATP and WTA of ‘not seeing beyond the end of their noses’ when it came to stripping Wimbledon of ranking points. The implication being, obviously, that they are failing to see the bigger picture.

Personally, I am not sure that is true. It feels much more like Wimbledon are over-estimating their own importance and influence within the wider global political picture than the ATP and WTA are under-estimating theirs.

With that said, it is easy to understand why Wimbledon want to be seen to be doing something. The atrocities in that are taking place in Ukraine are reprehensible and it’s only natural that people want to do all they can.

Banning players from Russia and Belarus is clearly Wimbledon’s way of doing that and, given the intent behind it, it is tough to criticise them for it whether we agree with their actions or not.  Simply put: the problem here is not what how Wimbledon have acted, it is how the ATP and WTA Tours have reacted.

Wimbledon logo

Clearly the Tours disagree with what Wimbledon have done, and sufficiently strongly to want to punish them. Okay, fair enough. The problem they have, though, is that neither the ATP nor WTA have the influence to punish Wimbledon. That should now be evident to everyone.

After all, the ATP and WTA have hit Wimbledon with the biggest sanction they have in their armoury – the loss of ranking points – and Wimbledon has not even flinched. It just swatted it aside, rolled its eyes, quietly muttered a dismissive ‘whatever’ to itself and quietly got on with its life.

It turns out that Wimbledon didn’t need ranking points because, well, it’s Wimbledon. Most tennis players grow up dreaming of playing at SW19 and would crawl on their hands and knees across broken glass to get the chance to. The only truly surprising thing about that is that the ATP and WTA are seemingly so surprised about it.

The result then, is in the absence of any real ability to punish Wimbledon, the Tours have instead punished the players.

A week after Wimbledon finishes they’ll be patting themselves on the back and looking ahead to next year. Matteo Berrettini, meanwhile, will be facing tougher draws for the rest of the year because he has dropped out of the world top 20 – even if he wins the tournament.

ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi explains that away by essentially saying that all points from the previous year drop off regardless, so this is ultimately indiscriminate.

Wimbledon from above

“From a ranking point of view, we want to have a ranking in 2022 where each player had access to the same number of points,” he said. “This is the only way to have a fair ranking at the end of the year.

“If we gave protection to those who played well at Wimbledon in 2021 it would be even more unfair to those who play well in 2022, because the points would still expire after 52 weeks as always happens. We can’t protect seven or eight players by creating even more damage to everyone else.”

Okay, that’s a reasonable enough explanation of why freezing the 2021 points is unfair on some. At the very same time and for the very same reason, it’s also a convincing argument about why it’s unfair on others. This is not indiscriminate equal treatment of all. It is the ATP deciding who to protect and who to damage.

To read it another way, it’s: ‘We can’t protect those seven or eight players, but we can damage these seven or eight’. Specifically speaking, the seven or eight who earned the most points last season and are now being rewarded for that achievement by being given the greatest sanctions.

The solution here has surely always been the simplest one: Register your disagreement with Wimbledon if you feel compelled to, but leave everything else as it was.

Where Gaudenzi’s idea that ‘each player has access to the same number of points’ has come from is, of course, a complete mystery.

“This is the biggest decision the ATP has taken in the last 20 years at least. Nobody asked us our opinion about it, and I think it shouldn’t work like that.” – Matteo Berrettini

One of Gaudenzi’s first duties when he assumed the role of ATP chairman in January 2020 was to oversee the ATP Cup. You know the ATP Cup, right? It’s that tournament that lets some players win ATP points while others are not allowed. The one in which the Moldovan number two had access to ranking points that the much higher ranked Spanish number three was denied. That ATP Cup. The one that is still a flagship event of the ATP calendar.

We don’t even need delve that deep into it either to find that this notion of equal access to all to the same ranking points is complete nonsense.

If you’re injured, you don’t get access to ranking points until you are able to play again. Novak Djokovic has been denied access to a veritable reservoir of ranking points because he chooses not to get vaccinated. Players given wild cards get access to points their ranking does not merit that others at a similar level do not. Players who test positive for Covid get denied access to ranking points until they return a positive test.

When those things happen, we shrug our shoulders and say that’s just tennis. How is Russian or Belarusian players being denied one tournament based on something outside of their control any different to, for example, a player who tests positive for Covid on the eve of a tournament?

Surely this is just part of tennis and it always has been? Some players play tournaments and get to compete for ranking points, and some have to miss some and miss out. It’s always been this way.

Ultimately, it’s hard to avoid a conclusion that the Tours and Wimbledon have allowed themselves to get into a stand-off this summer, and it’s the players that are caught in the crossfire.

You would hope sanity prevails and ranking points are restored on its usual basis, but we won’t be holding our breath.

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