The world’s leading male players have called for rankings points to be withdrawn from Wimbledon this summer in a major escalation of the row over the All England Club’s ban of Russian and Belarusian players, Telegraph Sport understands.
If ratified over the next 24 to 48 hours by the ATP board, then this would be a provocative response to what All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt recently called “the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances” – the non-invitation of Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka and the rest to SW19 this summer.
It would escalate an already controversial issue, pitting the men’s tour directly against the biggest tournament in the world, and leaving Wimbledon as no more than an exhibition tournament from the ATP’s perspective – albeit an exhibition tournament with a massive £35 million prize money fund.
The decision is not final yet, as it has to be ratified by the board of the ATP Tour over the next 24 to 48 hours. However, most insiders feel that ATP chief executive Andrea Gaudenzi has little choice but to take the players’ advice on this issue.
The ATP board consists of three player representatives and three tournament representatives, while Gaudenzi has the casting vote in the case of a 3-3 tie. In this situation, though, it is the players who have been directly affected by Wimbledon’s decision, and thus will expect to have the final say.
The ATP player council includes two of the so-called “Big Four” men. World No1 Novak Djokovic resigned from the committee 18 months ago because he wanted to start an independent player union, but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are included, along with eight others. Andy Murray was also on the council as an 'at-large member' but stepped down earlier this year.
The clock is ticking for both tours, with the WTA also understood to be leaning towards the same position. Entry lists close six weeks before the start of tournaments, so everyone needs to know where they stand before next week.
In all probability, there will also be consequences for the Lawn Tennis Association, which mirrored the All England Club’s stance by also rejecting Russians and Belarusians from this summer’s grass-court events in the UK.
Because Wimbledon is an independent event, run by a private members’ club, the only recourse the tours have with regard to the AELTC is to withdraw their rankings points – the one currency they possess.
However, the LTA is more exposed because its has contracted to run ATP and WTA events as franchises. As well as rankings-point withdrawal, it could also face swingeing fines.
Assuming that Gaudenzi and his board members endorse the ATP players’ confrontational position, this will be remembered as the biggest clash between players and Wimbledon since the boycott summer of 1973.
That was the year when a crisis developed after the Yugoslavian Tennis Federation tried to prevent Niki Pilic from playing in SW19 because of a domestic dispute involving his Davis Cup participation. Only a handful of recognisable players - including Jimmy Connors - broke the picket line.
If no solution can be found this time around, then there could potentially be more player withdrawals in sympathy with the Russian and Belarusian players. Opinion is running high, especially among a player body which sees equality of opportunity as the tour’s most fundamental value. The repercussions are likely to be felt around the game for some time.