John McEnroe and Tim Henman clash over Wimbledon's ban on Russian players

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Tennis icons John McEnroe clashed in an awkward live TV debate over Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from their tournament this summer – with the ATP and WTA stripped it of its ranking points after the controversial move.

Wimbledon will now effectively be an exhibition and there has been a suggestion that players could skip the competition entirely.

The All-England club have stood with the UK Government to condemn Russia for their invasion of Ukraine and said they have ‘carefully considered the situation in the context of our duties to the players, to our community and to the broader UK public as a British sporting institution’. 

Seven-time Grand Slam winner McEnroe said the tournament’s organisers made a ‘mistake’ during an appearance on Eurosport and ‘went after’ fellow pundit Henman, the former British No 1, for defending their decision, and claiming players could end up boycotting it.

‘I’m gonna go after Mr Henman because I think it was a mistake by Wimbledon to do what they did in the first place, kicking out the Russians and Belarusians,’ he said.

‘I don’t know how they came up with the Belarusians too but that’s a whole other story. In my opinion, compounded by the fact that now the ATP and the WTA say there are now no points, I don’t see how that helps the players. 

John McEnroe was involved in a heated debate with Tim Henman over Wimbledon

Former British no 1 had sympathised with their decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players

John McEnroe and Tim Henman were involved in an awkward TV debate about Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from their tournament 

American tennis icon McEnroe said they made 'a mistake' and suggested players could end up boycotting the summer tournament

American tennis icon McEnroe said they made ‘a mistake’ and suggested players could end up boycotting the summer tournament 

Wimbledon have been stripped of their rankings points by the WTA and ATP after the move

Wimbledon have been stripped of their rankings points by the WTA and ATP after the move 

‘If the players really believe that Wimbledon had made a big mistake by not allowing the Russian and Belarusian players to play, in my opinion, they should have boycotted the tournament.’

He then added: ‘By the way Mr Henman, we could share players’ profits. How about 50/50 with the All-England club now we’re on the subject of that?’ 

Henman chuckled and said there were ‘no winners’ from Wimbledon’s decision and admitted he felt sympathy for Russian and Belarusian players, but said it was unrealistic to expect officials to go against the Government given their strict stance on Russia. 

After McEnroe said he was 'going after Henman', the former British No 1 said it was unrealistic to not expect Wimbledon to stand by the Government

After McEnroe said he was ‘going after Henman’, the former British No 1 said it was unrealistic to not expect Wimbledon to stand by the Government 

Henman admitted it was a 'lose-lose situation for everybody' but stressed he had sympathy for Russian and Belarusian players for being victims of the UK's sanctions on Russia

Henman admitted it was a ‘lose-lose situation for everybody’ but stressed he had sympathy for Russian and Belarusian players for being victims of the UK’s sanctions on Russia

‘The reality of the situation is there are no winners and I feel enormous sympathy for the Russian and Belarusian players that cannot play,’ he said in response.

‘When you go through the circumstances presented to Wimbledon, the directive from the government is players are not allowed to play as neutral athletes, like on the tour at the moment.

‘So the question in return is are Wimbledon expected to turn around, given their status in the UK, and say to the government actually we think we know better so will do something different?

‘Wimbledon are not going to jeopardise the safety of their players or their families, and that’s before you talk about the propaganda of a Russian or Belarusian player receiving the trophy on Centre Court potentially in the second week.

Other tournaments are allowing Russian players such as Daniil Medvedev (above) to play on

Other tournaments are allowing Russian players such as Daniil Medvedev (above) to play on

‘The first two options are horrific and the third option is you don’t invite Russian and Belarusian players and that’s not much fun.’

McEnroe concluded the chat by adding: ‘It sounds like a lose-lose for everybody’. 

Earlier this month, Wimbledon laid out its stance as it announced a ban on Russian and Belarusian players.

It said ini a statement: ‘We share in the universal condemnation of Russia’s illegal actions and have carefully considered the situation in the context of our duties to the players, to our community and to the broader UK public as a British sporting institution.

‘If circumstances change materially between now and June, we will consider and respond accordingly.’

But the ATP said it would ‘set a damaging precendent for the rest of the tour’ and was also critical of the way that Wimbledon caved into government pressure, and of the way that Wimbledon acted ‘in isolation’.

Novak Djokovic won last year's men's singles tournament, beating Matteo Berrettini in the final

Novak Djokovic won last year’s men’s singles tournament, beating Matteo Berrettini in the final

‘Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the Tour,’ the organisation said. ‘Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a Tour that operates in more than 30 countries.

‘We note that this was informal guidance, not a mandate, which offered an alternative option that would have left the decision in the hands of individual players competing as neutral athletes through a signed declaration. Our internal discussions with affected players in fact led us to conclude this would have been a more agreeable option for the Tour.’

Players will now lose their points from 2021, so the likes of Novak Djokovic will be denied the chance of defending the 2000 he won from twelve months ago. As expected, the pre-Wimbledon events in the UK have been spared the same treatment. 

Wimbledon responded by expressing it’s ‘deep disappointment’, adding: ‘We believe these decisions to be disproportionate in the context of the exceptional and extreme circumstances of this situation. We remain unwilling to accept success at Wimbledon being used to benefit the propaganda machine of the Russian regime.’ 

A number of players have expressed their concern about the prospect of playing at what is effectively an exhibition tournament, with Naomi Osaka already admitting she may skip it. 

A number of tennis stars have poured doubt on participating at Wimbledon after it was effectively reduced to being an exhibition

A number of tennis stars have poured doubt on participating at Wimbledon after it was effectively reduced to being an exhibition 

‘I’m not 100 per cent sure if I’m going to go,’ she said.

‘I would love to go just to get some experience on the grass court, but at the same time, it’s like — I don’t want to say pointless, no pun intended — but I’m the type of player that gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up.

‘I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition. I know this isn’t true, but my brain just feels that way. When I think something is like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100 per cent.’

World No 1 star Novak Djokovic came out in opposition of Wimbledon’s decision, saying he could not support it – even though the ATP’s call to stip them of points threatens his status at the top.

‘They haven’t discussed it with anybody from ATP or any individual players – or, for that matter, Russian or Belarusian players – to just communicate and understand whether there is a common ground where both sides could be making a compromise and something could work out,’ Djokovic said about the All England Club. ‘So I think it was a wrong decision. I don’t support that at all.’ 

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