John McEnroe and Tim Henman were involved in a lively debate over the decision by Wimbledon to ban Russian and Belarusian players, and the subsequent move by the ATP and WTA tours to strip the tournament of ranking points.
Wimbledon banned players from Russia and Belarus due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying they had "no viable alternative within the framework of the government's position".
The situation has led to players questioning whether they will play Wimbledon this summer.
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Former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka says she is “leaning” towards not playing as it will feel like an “exhibition” event while American John Isner said the “currency on tour is points”.
Four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Henman is on the All England Lawn Tennis Club board and said earlier in the day he does not expect the top players to miss the tournament.
But his views were challenged by seven-time Grand Slam champion McEnroe on Eurosport…
Henman: “She [Osaka] is speaking for herself, I think the vast majority of players would look at Wimbledon and the history and prestige and tradition of the event.
“For a top player like Naomi, she is capable of winning any tournament she plays, so the idea that she could have the opportunity of winning a Wimbledon title and would turn that down I was surprised to hear, but that’s her prerogative."
McEnroe: “I think it was a mistake by Wimbledon to do what they did, and it’s compounded by the fact the ATP and the WTA say there are no points. I don’t see how that helps the players.
“If the players really believe that Wimbledon made a big mistake by not allowing Russian and Belarusian players to play then they should have boycotted the tournament [like in 1973 when Nikola Pilic was not allowed to play and most of the players opted out in protest]."
Henman: “The reality of the situation is there are no winners and I feel enormous sympathy for the Russian and Belarusian players that cannot play.
"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?”
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McEnroe: “Absolutely right, I would absolutely do that.”
Henman: “That’s not going to happen John, so the next question is are you going to get the players to sign a declaration against the government in Russia and the war and the regime?”
McEnroe: “If you are a Russian or Belarusian player and your parents and family live in Russia and they have a new law that says they can spend 15 years in prison if they say there is even a war going on or say anything negative about what’s happening, would you say anything if you were Daniil Medvedev or Andrey Rublev or Victoria Azarenka or Aryna Sabalenka? They are in a hell of a bind.
Henman: “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. 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: “It sounds like a lose-lose situation for everybody.”
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