The US Open will not follow Wimbledon by banning Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tennis tournament.
The United States Tennis Association, which owns and operates the US Open, announced the decision Tuesday after a recent board meeting. This leaves Wimbledon as the only Grand Slam tournament to exclude Russians and Belarusians following the invasion of Ukraine.
“This horrific atrocity has taken an absolute toll on all of us,” said Lev Sherr, USTA’s new executive director, referring to the war in Ukraine. “But I think at the end of the day we decided not to hold the individual athletes accountable for the decisions of their respective governments.”
The Wimbledon ban, partly at the urging of the British government, has garnered strong support from the British public, according to opinion polls. But the ban was met with disapproval from the men’s and women’s tennis tours, which responded by stripping Wimbledon of ranking points that year, despite significant debate and disagreement among players.
Sherr said USTA officials have been in talks with the leaders of Wimbledon and the other two Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open and the Australian Open, in recent weeks. “It was very clear that each of us was dealing with a unique set of circumstances,” he said. “Wimbledon, in her case, there was also a government directive and we came out and strongly supported her decision given her circumstances. Our circumstances are different and in our case we felt it was the right decision.”
Understand the Russia-Ukraine War better
Russian and Belarusian players will compete under neutral flags at the US Open, which begins August 29, just as they competed on the tour and at the recently-concluded French Open.
Daniil Medvedev of Russia won the US Open men’s singles title last year and is back at No. 1 in the ATP singles rankings this week. Victoria Azarenka of Belarus is a three-time US Open women’s singles finalist. Another Belarusian female star, Aryna Sabalenka, reached the semifinals of last year’s US Open.
All will be absent from Wimbledon, which starts on June 27, and Russian and Belarusian players have also been banned from the UK’s preliminary events at the Queen’s Club, Eastbourne and other venues this month. The USTA ultimately decided to go in a different direction, although Sherr reiterated on Tuesday that she viewed the Tours’ decision to withdraw points from Wimbledon as “disproportionate”.
So far, no other tour events outside of the UK have followed Wimbledon, although tennis authorities reacted quickly after the invasion of Ukraine to ban Russian and Belarusian teams from participating in team events such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
“It’s not an easy situation,” Sherr said. “It’s a terrible situation for the people of Ukraine, an unprovoked and unjust invasion and absolutely horrific, so anything we talk about pales in relation to what’s going on there.”
Sherr said the USTA will use the US Open to raise funds for relief efforts in Ukraine and “to demonstrate our support for the Ukrainian people.”
Sherr said the USTA had received no pressure or direction from the US government regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players.
Russian players like Medvedev have competed in the United States since international restrictions were put in place, playing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, and the Miami Open in March. Russian stars of other sports, such as Alexander Ovechkin of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, continue to compete for their North American clubs.
“The board discussion was really about principles and what we thought was right and not a function of what the NHL could do. not even a function of what’s happening elsewhere in tennis,” Sherr said. “Really it was a fundamental issue that on the one hand you have atrocities and a terrible situation and on the other hand you are willing to hold those individuals accountable for those decisions?”
Although Medvedev should be able to defend his title in New York if he is healthy, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the player he defeated in the final last year, remains unable to enter the United States as he is an unvaccinated alien. That policy, which stopped Djokovic from competing in Indian Wells or Miami this year, could change before the US Open begins, but Sherr made it clear on Tuesday that the USTA would not seek an exemption for unvaccinated foreign players to compete in New York .
“We will be following government and CDC guidance,” Sherr said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.