Opinion: We need to stop making such a racquet about Russian and Belarusian tennis players

Since when has booing players off court ever been the norm at Wimbledon? 

Victoria Azarenka – the former World number one – faced Ukrainian athlete Elina Svitolina in the round of 16 which proved to be a Wimbledon classic.

A tense tie saw the Belarusian narrowly lose, only to be compounded by a chorus of boos as she left the court. Classy. 

The booing came after the match as Svitolina refused to shake hands with Azarenka, a decision that she has explained many times in interviews and one that is respected by her Belarusian counterpart.

This is unfortunately not an isolated incident, as Daria Kasatkina was subject to the same treatment at the French Open – a player who has publicly condemned the war on several occasions.

At a time when mental health awareness has become so important, these incidents are an embarrassment to the sport. 

I have never seen Ms Azarenka on the front lines with Russian soldiers.

Nor have I ever seen Ms Kasatkina sit across from Putin in the war room.

So I instead choose to condemn these so-called ‘fans’ who target innocent athletes with no control over the war. 

We only need to venture back to last year when Russian and Belarusian players were not even allowed to compete on the famous grass – a monumental decision taken by the Lawn Tennis Association. 

As a result, the LTA was subject to a fine and world ranking points were removed from last year’s championships by the International Tennis Federation.

The prestigious tennis tournament lifted this ban in March this year, with Russian and Belarusian players being forced to compete as ‘neutral athletes’, with proof they are not sponsored by state companies. 

Tennis players – along with all professional athletes – train their whole lives in an attempt to reach the very top. 

They spend day and night training, making huge sacrifices and often battling injuries to get an opportunity to prove themselves against the best and win trophies. 

It is impossible to fathom the feeling of having that opportunity ripped away at the last hurdle. 

I am all for putting sanctions on Russia, Putin and the entire war effort – but I cannot forgive preventing hard working athletes from achieving their potential.

Now, finally given a chance to play, these athletes are singled out on court with jeers and boos. 

Wimbledon simply would not be the same without these players. 

In the men’s singles, Medvedev was only prevented from booking his place in the final by the electric Spanish international – and eventual winner – Carlos Alcaraz.

I hope that the LTA continues to leave politics out of tennis and stands up as the diverse and inclusive organisation that it claims to be.

As for the fans, stick to the strawberries and cream and keep your political views at home – it’s Centre Court, not the Supreme Court.

Image: Victoria Azarenka leaves the court after her defeat to Elena Svitolina. BBC

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