The U.S. Open will not follow Wimbledon by barring Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tennis tournament.
The United States Tennis Association, which owns and operates the U.S. Open, announced the decision on Tuesday after a recent meeting of its board of directors. The move leaves Wimbledon as the only Grand Slam tournament to bar Russians and Belarusians in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
“This horrible atrocity absolutely weighed on all of us,” said Lew Sherr, the new chief executive of the U.S.T.A., referring to the war in Ukraine. “But I think at the end of the day we chose not to hold the individual athletes accountable for the decisions of their respective governments.”
Wimbledon’s ban, made partly in response to pressure for action from the British government, has received strong support from the British public, as demonstrated in 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 this year despite considerable debate and dissent among players.
Sherr said U.S.T.A. officials had discussions in recent weeks with the leaders of Wimbledon and the other two Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open and the Australian Open. “It was very clear each of us was dealing with a unique set of circumstances,” he said. “Wimbledon, in their case, there was a government directive involved as well, and we came out and strongly supported their decision given their circumstances. Our circumstances are different, and in our case, we felt this was the right decision for us.”
Better Understand the Russia-Ukraine War
Russian and Belarusian players will compete in the U.S. Open, which will begin Aug. 29, under a neutral flag, just as they have been competing on tour and at the recently concluded French Open.
Daniil Medvedev of Russia won the U.S. 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 U.S. Open women’s singles finalist. Aryna Sabalenka, another Belarusian women’s star, reached the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open.
All will be absent from Wimbledon, which begins on June 27, and Russian and Belarusian players have also been barred from the preliminary events this month in Britain at Queen’s Club, Eastbourne and other venues. The U.S.T.A. ultimately chose to go in a different direction, even though Sherr reiterated on Tuesday that it viewed the tours’ decision to strip points from Wimbledon as “disproportionate.”
For now, no other tour events outside Britain have followed Wimbledon’s lead, although tennis authorities did move swiftly after the invasion of Ukraine to bar Russian and Belarusian teams from competing in team events like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
“This is not an easy situation,” Sherr said. “It’s a horrific situation for those in Ukraine, an unprovoked and unjust invasion and absolutely horrific so anything we talk about pales in relation to what is going on there.”
Sherr said the U.S.T.A. would use the U.S. Open to help raise funds for relief efforts in Ukraine and to “demonstrate our support for the Ukrainian people.”
Sherr said the U.S.T.A. had received no pressure or directive from the U.S. government related to the participation of Russian and Belarusian players.
Russian players like Medvedev have already competed in the United States since international restrictions were put in place, playing in March at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and at the Miami Open. Russian stars in other sports, like Alexander Ovechkin of the N.H.L.’s Washington Capitals, have continued to compete for their North American clubs.
“The discussion in the board was really about principles and what we felt was right for us and not a function of what the N.H.L. might be doing; not a function of even what might be happening elsewhere in tennis,” Sherr said. “Really it was a fundamental issue of on the one hand you have atrocities and a horrible situation and on the other hand are we prepared to hold these individuals accountable for those decisions?”
Though Medvedev should be able, if healthy, to defend his title in New York, the player he defeated in last year’s final, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, remains unable to enter the United States because he is an unvaccinated foreigner. That policy, which kept Djokovic from competing in Indian Wells or Miami this year, could change before the U.S. Open begins, but Sherr made it clear on Tuesday that the U.S.T.A. would not be seeking an exemption for unvaccinated foreign players to compete in New York.
“We are going to follow the government and C.D.C. directives,” said Sherr, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.