Rafael Nadal on Wimbledon Banning Russian, Belarusian Players: 'I'm Sorry for Them'

Erin WalshMay 1, 2022

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 01: Rafael Nadal of Spain attends his press conference during the Mutua Madrid Open 2022 celebrated at La Caja Magica on May 01, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images

On Sunday, Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal criticized Wimbledon's decision to bar Russian and Belarusian players from competing in this year's tournament amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

"It's not their fault what's happening in this moment with the war," Nadal told reporters ahead of the Madrid Open. "I'm sorry for them. Wimbledon just took their decision. ... The government didn't force them to do it."

Nadal's comments come after Novak Djokovic, who has been unable to compete in several tournaments because he remains unvaccinated against COVID-19, called the ban on Russian and Belarusian players from competing at Wimbledon "crazy."

"I will always condemn war; I will never support war being myself a child of war," Djokovic told reporters at the Serbia Open last week. "I know how much emotional trauma it leaves. In Serbia we all know what happened in 1999. In the Balkans, we have had many wars in recent history."

"However, I cannot support the decision of Wimbledon. I think it is crazy. When politics interferes with sport, the result is not good."

Wimbledon announced the ban on players from Russia and Belarus, which is aiding Russian forces against Ukraine, on April 20. Both the ATP and WTA, the governing bodies of the men's and women's professional tennis circuits, respectively, have criticized the All England Club's decision.

This is the first time players have been banned from a tennis tournament because of their nationality since after World War II, when German and Japanese players were barred from competing. 

Some of the world's best players will be unable to compete at next month's grass-court tournament, including Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Victoria Azarenka. That being said, Wimbledon noted it will reconsider its decision if the circumstances change between now and the beginning of the tournament. 

Wimbledon is set to begin on June 27 and run through July 10. Players will first compete at the French Open later this month, which marks the end of clay-court season.