US Open organisers have revealed that they “seriously considered” copying Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players following the invasion of Ukraine. The news comes as the United States Tennis Association has announced the sport’s largest fundraiser event for Ukraine, a charity match to be held on the country’s independence day of August 24.
The USTA has explained why it did not choose to follow in the All England Club’s decision to ban all Russian and Belarusian players from competing in Wimbledon as executives confirmed that they strongly debated barring them from the upcoming US Open, allowing the likes of defending champion Daniil Medvedev to play. Instead, they opted to host a fund-raising event with the hopes that players from the two nations could be convinced to support a charity match to donate to the efforts in Ukraine.
And the plan has been successful, with the US Open tournament director confirming that Belarusian two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka accepted her request to join the likes of Rafael Nadal and WTA world No 1 Iga Swiatek at the event on Ukraine’s Independence Day later this month.
Opening up on her conversation with Azarenka, Stacey Allister told the New York Times: “It was a quick response. She said, ‘This is a player choice, and I want to play.’” The US Open boss also explained that the USTA decided to allow Russian and Belrusian players to compete because they didn’t want them to be held responsible for the actions of their respective governments.
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But Allaster said that the USTA still wanted to take advantage of the US Open and North American hard-court swing to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and raise funds to support the country. “You turn on the news now and the war is the fifth or sixth story sometimes,” she said.
Allaster also emphasised that she and the association didn’t want “to put undue pressure on any athlete.” Multiple Russian players – even those who were born in the country but switched allegiances years ago like recent Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina – have opted to keep their comments on the war limited over fears for the safety of themselves or family members still in the country, and the US Open tournament director added: “We are going to respect and support any player’s decision.”
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The USTA will be donating at least £1.7 million (USD$2 million) to GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund and, as well as the exhibition match, is planning to help raise more money throughout the duration of the tournament on broadcasts and their official website.
As well as Nadal and Swiatek, Coco Gauff, Carlos Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz, Amanda Anisimova, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Matteo Berrettini and John McEroe have all committed to the exhibition match, to be played at the US Open site of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in Queens, New York.