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‘Wimbledon made a mistake – there has to be consequences’ – Djokovic hits out

One of the players who will take the biggest hit from the ongoing Wimbledon controversy has blasted the decision-makers for their lack of foresight and communication

Novak Djokovic Roland Garros Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts during his first round match against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka (Panoramic)

It might be Roland-Garros fortnight, but much of the talk around Paris is focusing on the next Grand Slam – and Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarussian players, followed by the ATP and WTA announcing the withdrawal of ranking points for the tournament this year.

Rafael Nadal spoke on Monday afternoon about his measured approach to the controversy – while Naomi Osaka revealed that she was considering not playing Wimbledon at all without any ranking points on offer.

Finally it was time for Novak Djokovic – never a man short of an opinion – to weigh in. And after beating Yoshihito Nishioka in straight sets to reach the second round of Roland-Garros, the men’s defending champion took the opportunity to criticise the stance taken by the tournament organisers in SW19.

“Unification always”

Revealing that he had spoken to ATP staff and player council members, Djokovic said: “I’m glad that players got together with ATP, the governing body of the men’s tennis, and showed to the Grand Slam that when there is a mistake happening, and there was from the Wimbledon side, then we have to show that there is going to be some consequences.

“So I support the players, unification always. I have always done that. I will always do that. Of course it’s up to Wimbledon or LTA, whoever was making that decision, to make that decision.

“A few days ago I found out that there was a document of recommendation from the English government towards the All England Club and where they had several options. There was not only one on the table. 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.”

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic with the Wimbledon trophy in 2021

He added that he understood that the WTA and ATP had put forward some suggestions of exhibition matches to raise money for victims of the war in Ukraine – none of which had been considered.

“Possibly men’s and women’s players from Belarusia, Ukraine, and Russia could play together some exhibition event during the slam or something like this, or somebody could play mixed doubles and prize money could go to the victims in Ukraine, and stuff like this. There was different ideas, but there was never really, unfortunately, a strong communication coming from Wimbledon. That’s why I think it’s just wrong.”

Djokovic: ‘The current system doesn’t work for the players’

Mentioning his brainchild the PTPA, Djokovic called for more player involvement in decision-making, saying: “I feel that it is crucial for players to come together. Not every player is in support of this decision – I have heard that there are 30 players, maybe even more, who are planning to do something and communicate with the ATP. A lot of players did not seem to like the decision, but the structure in tennis is like that – I know, I have been a part of the Council for ten years, I have been the president…. A member of the Council can justify his decision by saying: ‘You chose me, don’t complain now because I am making decisions the way I feel it’s right.’

“I don’t think this system works for the players, that is why the PTPA was founded. I really believe that PTPA will get stronger with time, even though now nobody recognises us, we are not given any credibility, nobody wants us in this ecosystem. We have no role in the negotiations, the only thing we can do is to put out statements, like we did on several big topics. But the fact is that others don’t want to speak to us despite PTPA membership being a few hundred players, both male and female. It’s a process to unite the players, that is why I support these kinds of decisions, but again, not every player does. It is an individual sport, there is always going to be a difference of opinion.”

Djokovic: Wimbledon was my dream

Of course, Djokovic will be one of the players most affected by dropping ranking points at Wimbledon – having also been unable to defend his 2,000 points at the Australian Open earlier in 2022 due to his deportation. He admitted that he hoped that the ATP might have considered a course of action that did not punish so severely the players who did well at Wimbledon last year.

“I feel that the ATP could have found some middle ground as well. They could have stripped the points for this year, like they did, but they could have frozen the points from last year, just like it was the case during the pandemic. This way, it is very unfair towards me and other players who have done well last year at Wimbledon.”

He added: “For me or for the guys that did well last year, we are not only not going to have chance to earn points but we can’t defend them. There are some guys that obviously are not going to have a chance to earn points. Of course it’s a very unique and weird situation, I must say. Of course Grand Slam is still Grand Slam. Wimbledon for me was always my dream tournament when I was a child.

“I don’t look at it through the lens of points or prize money. For me, it’s something else. But again, there has to be some standards or criteria – some respect, mutual respect, I think.

“I think maybe there is always going to be some groups of players that are going to be affected more negatively, and they are going to complain more.

“It’s hard, really. It’s hard to say what is right, what is wrong. This is one of these kind of decisions and situations where there is always going to be someone that will suffer more. It’s kind of, I would say, lose-lose situation for everyone.”

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