Tennis world No.5 Aryna Sabalenka has questioned the effectiveness of Wimbledon's move to ban Russian and Belarusian players from last year's tournament, arguing the move did nothing to detract from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Wimbledon was not awarded any rankings points last year due to the ban, after the ATP and WTA fined the tournament hosts for imposing the controversial ban.
Wimbledon was the only tournament to place restrictions on players from either Russia or Belarus in the wake of the Vladimir Putin-led invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. The invasion sparked a reckoning in the United Kingdom against wealthy Russian oligarchs housing assets, amid near worldwide condemnation of the Russian invasion.
While the move to ban players from Russia and the Putin-supporting Belarus from Wimbledon was met with approval from some quarters, it sparked a massive controversy between the ATP and WTA, and the All-England cliub hosting the famous grand slam. As a result of the ban, Wimbledon was stripped of ranking points in 2022 - leaving players aggrieved and without the chance to defend crucial ranking points.
World No.5 Sabalenka, who hails from Belarus, is set to compete in the 2022 Australian Open under a neutral flag. Many players on tour, including those from Russia, have spoken out against the invasion of Ukraine.
Sabalenka questioned whether the ban had made any impact on the effort to bring the invasion to an end. Speaking to The Age prior to the Australian Open, the 24-year-old said it was unfair to punish players for a situation they couldn't have any control over.
"This is really terrible because no one supports war – no one," she said. "The problem is that we have to speak loud about that ... but why should we scream about that in every corner? It's not going to help at all. We have zero control under this situation.
"I'm just really disappointed sport is somehow in politics. We're just athletes playing their sport. That's it. We're not about politics. If all of us could do something, we would do it, but we have zero control. They banned us from Wimbledon, and what did it change? Nothing – they're still doing this, and this is the sad [part] of this situation."
Iga Swiatek's bold Ash Barty reveal as Australian Open campaign begins
Meanwhile, world No.1 Iga Swiatek has opened her United Cup campaign with a straight-sets thrashing of Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva. Swiatek gave Poland a 1-0 lead in the mixed teams tournament tie with a commanding 6-1 6-3 win in Brisbane on Saturday.
Swiatek went on a 37-match winning streak last season - the equal-longest in women's tennis since Steffi Graf in 1990. But she revealed on the eve of the United Cup that she initially struggled with taking on retired Australian ace Ash Barty's world No.1 mantle.
Swiatek hopes to take her game to even greater heights in 2023 and has hit the ground running ahead of next month's Australian Open. She was a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park last summer, losing to American Danielle Collins.
Swiatek said starting the season injury free was a big plus. "A couple of times when I was starting the season, I also was coming back from an injury," she said.
"I actually have never had this easy start of the season. Not easy but maybe without any extra baggage. I feel like this time I can actually just focus on getting into the rhythm and not really think about other stuff. We will see how it's going to go."
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