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Billie Jean King calls on Wimbledon to end Russian player ban as “life is too short”

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The iconic Billie Jean King has called on the All England Tennis Club to end its Wimbledon ban on Russian and Belarusian players, arguing “life is too short,” to continue the sanction.

The famous grass court tournament is the only Grand Slam to have barred players from the two nations, following the invasion of Ukraine that began in February last year. Indeed, in the current Australian Open, Belarusian players Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka could yet meet in the final after both made the final four.

Organisers at SW19 are now considering whether or not to reimpose the sanctions for the 2023 tournament. It would be a huge call, considering last year the tours responded by stripping Wimbledon of ranking points, leaving many players and fans sceptical over the world order at the end of the year.

Speaking at the Aussie Open with the Original Nine – consisting of the nine players who founded the WTA in 1970, King said: “Just keep it the same way as the other ones are. Life is too short. I think they should get prize money.

“Just have them play and get their money. It’s the ranking points, for sure. They have to have it. (Elena) Rybakina, they’ve seeded her 25th, but because she won Wimbledon, she’s not (seeded higher). We are a platform to have discussions on this, though, just like you’re asking. I think it’s important. The WTA was started for that, so we’d all have one voice, too, to help protect players.”

Fifth seed Sabalenka is now the highest ranked player left on the women’s draw, and will face Poland’s Magda Linette in the semi final. Azarenka will play Moscow-born Rybakina, who was eligible for Wimbledon after switching her national allegiance to Kazakhstan, in the other clash.

Daniil Medvedev was one of the star names absent from SW19 last year
AFP via Getty Images)

The 24-year-old has already lauded the potential for an all-Belarusian final: “I really want it to happen. I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happen,” said Sabalenka. “I will do everything I can to make it happen. That’s, yeah, it would be history. That’s going to be just unbelievable and tough to realise that this is actually happening.”

There is still a chance of Russian glory in the men’s side of the draw, with Karen Khachanov facing Stefanos Tsitsipas in his semi final. The other Russian hope, Andrey Rublev, was thumped by Novak Djokovic in the last eight, ending the possible notion of a Rublev v Khachanov final.

But the latter has refused to be drawn on the Wimbledon saga: “No message. Just whatever they decide. I mean, what can I do?” he told the media, when asking if he had any message for the authorities. “I think my words would not change anything, right, in a way. So I don’t want to say anything, because there is just no point. If they achieved something, I think you better ask them, not me.”

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