Rafael Nadal has been rebuked by a former Ukraine tennis star, who is now fighting to protect his homeland, after the Spaniard described Wimbledon’s ban on Russian players as ‘unfair’.
Sergiy Stakhovsky, who ranked as high as 31 in the world and once knocked Roger Federer out of the competition in SW19, responded passionately to Nadal on Twitter.
Stakhovsky retired from the sport in January and following the Russian invasion of his homeland he joined the Ukraine army and took up arms to defend his country. He recently gave an interview describing the horrors he has seen in the war.
Not surprisingly, he is supportive of the All England Club decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament, but the move has split the sport.
High profile voices have spoken against the decision, including Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova. Even Andy Murray said he was ‘not supportive’ of banning players, while acknowledging it was a difficult situation.
‘I think it’s very unfair on my Russian colleagues,’ said Nadal. ‘In the sense it’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war. In that sense, talking about colleagues, I’m sorry for them. I wish it was not this way.’
However, Stakhovsky, who defeated eight-time Wimbledon winner, Federer, in the second round of the 2013 tournament, quickly took to social media to voice his objection to Nadal.
‘@Rafael Nadal we competed together. we’ve played each other on tour. Please tell me how it is fair that Ukrainian players cannot return home?’ said the Ukrainian on Twitter.
‘How it is fair that Ukrainian kids cannot play tennis? How is it fair that Ukrainians are dying?
Stakhovsky and Nadal met twice on court, once in a Davis Cup tie in 2013 and again in the Canadian Masters in 2015. The Spaniard won both encounters in straight sets.
Nadal is not impressed with the insistence of British tennis that the UK government left it with little choice but to exclude Russians and Belarusians.
‘The government gave a recommendation, and Wimbledon just took their decision, the more drastic position that they could take without taking into account…the government didn’t force them to do it,’ added the Spaniard.
The Ukraine war has had an appalling impact. More than 11 million people are believed to have fled their homes in Ukraine since the conflict began, according to the United Nations.
As well as the 5.3 million who have left for neighbouring countries, another 6.5 million people are thought to be displaced inside the war-torn country itself.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified 2,899 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine. The number of soldiers killed is disputed
AELTC Chairman Ian Hewitt has insisted British government guidance did not allow players to compete at the event based on their rankings and there were two available options — declining entries or allowing entries but only with specific written declarations from individual players.
‘We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances,’ Hewitt told reporters, last month.
The move is the first time players have been banned from Wimbledon on the grounds of nationality since the immediate post-World War Two era when German and Japanese players were excluded.
Wimbledon is also the first tennis tournament to ban individual competitors from the two countries, meaning men’s world No 2 Daniil Medvedev from Russia and women’s fourth-ranked Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus will be banned from the June 27-July 10 tournament.
The AELTC’s decision has been condemned by both the men’s and women’s tours.
The ATP and WTA tours are currently trying to work out their responses to the move of Wimbledon and other British tournaments to bar players from nations prosecuting the war in Ukraine.
Andy Murray has revealed how he has agonised over the rights and wrongs of the decision to ban players from Wimbledon.
‘It’s a really, really difficult one,’ he said. ‘I feel for Wimbledon, I feel for the players and I feel for everyone that’s affected by it in Ukraine. I find it just difficult to talk about. I’m not supportive of players getting banned.’
Djokovic, however, is unequivocally on the players’ side, and he suggested that there will be some form of point alterations at the grass court tournaments.
‘I still stand by my position that I don’t support the decision. I think it’s just not fair, it’s not right. Now I guess it’s on player council, the tour management, to really decide along with the players what is the best solution…’ he said.