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Wimbledon wrong to ban Russians, says Rublev

Andrey Rublev insisted Monday that Wimbledon was wrong to ban him and his Russian compatriots from the 2022 tournament, claiming the only loser was the All England Club.

Wimbledon banned all Russian players in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Competitors from Belarus, a key ally of Russia, were also banished.

Twelve months on, the sanction has been lifted on condition that players from the two countries sign declarations of neutrality.

However, world number seven Rublev quickly reopened the wounds after becoming the first player into the second round of the men’s singles.

“We were talking, and I think we could find the solution,” he said.

“If we really want to help or do what is better for tennis and for the people, I think obviously there were better options — not just to ban. 

“Because in the end, there was no difference. They did only worse to themselves.”

The men’s ATP tour and women’s WTA tour refused to award ranking points to Wimbledon last year in response to the player ban.

Both governing bodies also imposed heavy fines.

The All England Club said the decision to lift the ban was made after talks with the UK government, Britain’s governing Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and international tennis bodies.

When the decision was made in April, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned the move as “immoral”.

“Now we are here, I’m really happy to be back and to compete,” added Rublev after defeating Australia’s Max Purcell 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The bitter sporting fallout from the war was brought into sharp focus at the French Open.

Ukrainian players such as Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk were jeered by the Paris crowd for refusing to shake hands with Belarus world number two Aryna Sabalenka.

Veronika Kudermetova was also an early Russian winner on Monday, the 12th seed seeing off veteran Kaia Kanepi in straight sets.

The 26-year-old admitted locker room relationships with her Ukraine rivals remain tense.

“I say hi to them. Some people, they reply, some not. I just say ‘Here we are, just tennis players’.”

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka of Belarus praised the Wimbledon crowd, saying she had enjoyed a warm welcome out on Court 15, where she defeated China’s Yuan Yue 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

“Today to hear people say, ‘Let’s go, Vika’, and cheering me on was also why I play, to play in front of the crowd, to put on a good show. So that felt great,” said the 33-year-old.

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