1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Australian Open finals: Why Medvedev and Sabalenka played

January 26, 2024

While Russian and Belarusian athletes in other sports are waiting to be allowed to compete again, the Australian Open shows that is not the case in tennis. DW explains why.

Aryna Sabalenka covers her mouth with her hand
Aryna Sabalenka won the 2023 Australian Open under a neutral flagImage: Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo/picture alliance

Who makes the decision in tennis?

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is the world governing body responsible for the rules of the game. The ITF is made up of 213 national federations. It also organizes the Olympic tennis tournaments, the Davis Cup for men and the Fed Cup for women, as well as the four most important tennis tournaments of the year, the Grand Slams: Australian Open in Melbourne, French Open in Paris, the Wimbledon Championships in London and the US Open in New York.

There is also the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for women. These bodies organize their respective professional series (ATP Tour and WTA Tour) as well as the end-of-season tournaments (ATP Finals and WTA Tour Championships).

How did tennis associations react to the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

On March 1 2022, the ITF, ATP and WTA, as well as the local organizers of the four Grand Slam tournaments, issued a joint statement in which they described the Russian invasion as an "unacceptable act of aggression" and called for an "end to violence and a return to peace." The ITF suspended the national tennis federations of Russia and Belarus and the ATP and WTA put planned events in Moscow on hold. 

However, the associations also explained how they would deal with the players from both countries: "Players from Russia and Belarus will continue to be allowed to compete in international tennis events as individuals. However, they will not compete under the name or flag of Russia or Belarus until further notice."

There has been no change since then. As a result, Aryna Sabalenka, a Belarusian tennis player, won her second consecutive Australian Openon Saturday while Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, lost to Jannik Sinner the men's final on Sunday after beating Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the semifinal. Both are playing under a neutral flag.

Daniil Medvedev raises his racquet to the crowd
Daniil Medvedev will face Italian player Jannik Sinner in the finalImage: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/AP Photo/picture alliance

Did everyone adhere to this rule?

Almost, but there was one exception: Wimbledon 2022. The organizers of the storied event in London excluded players from Russia and Belarus, partly due to pressure from the British government. The ATP and WTA condemned the ban as "discriminatory." The WTA added: "Individual athletes should not be penalized or prevented from competing because of their origin or the decisions of their countries' governments."

What happened next?

That tournament went ahead without Russian and Belarusian players despite the opposition. But the ATP and WTA did not award any ranking points to the players involved while the organizers, the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), were made to pay fines totalling $2 million (€1.85 million). Despite this, the AELTC wanted to maintain their stance in 2023, but folded after they were threatened with expulsion from the ATP and the WTA.  

In late March 2023, those responsible at Wimbledon relented and allowed Russian and Belarusian players back in. However, they had to sign a declaration stating that they did not support the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the presidents of Russia and Belarus, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko. They were then allowed to play on the hallowed turf of Wimbledon again.

This article was adapted from German.