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    Once Again, Tennis Is Disrupted by Politics

    The sport has a long history of disputes, especially over apartheid. This year Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarusian players.If he had it to do over, Brad Gilbert would never have played a professional tennis tournament in South Africa while the country was embroiled in apartheid.Martina Navratilova has never regretted challenging Czechoslovakia’s Communist government by defecting to the United States in 1975, but she wishes she had been able to convince her parents and younger sister to come with her.And Cliff Drysdale, the first president of the ATP, the men’s pro players’ association, is still in awe of his fellow pros for agreeing to boycott Wimbledon in 1973 when the Croatian player Nikola Pilic was suspended by his native Yugoslav Tennis Federation, which said he refused to play for Yugoslavia in the Davis Cup in New Zealand.Cliff Drysdale, far right, president of the ATP, announcing that its members would boycott Wimbledon in 1973 because the Yugoslav Tennis Federation had suspended the Croatian player Nikola Pilic. PA Images, via Getty ImagesTennis and politics have long had a craggy relationship. This year alone, the sport has been embroiled in three international incidents — Novak Djokovic’s deportation from Australia on the eve of the Australian Open because he did not have a Covid vaccination; the Women’s Tennis Association canceling all tournaments in China following accusations by Peng Shuai that she was sexually assaulted by a high-ranking government official; and Wimbledon banning Russian and Belarusian players because of the war in Ukraine. Both the WTA and the ATP subsequently stripped this year’s Wimbledon of all ranking points.As this tournament begins, five male players ranked in the world’s top 50, including No. 1 Daniil Medvedev and No. 8 Andrey Rublev, both Russians, will be absent because of the Wimbledon ban. Also banned are the Russians Karen Khachanov, ranked No. 22, and Aslan Karatsev, No. 43; and the Belarusian Ilya Ivashka, No. 40.Daniil Medvedev, the No. 1 player in the world, is among the Russians who will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon. Thomas F. Starke/Getty ImagesFor the women, 13 players who would have qualified are not allowed to play, including the Russians Daria Kasatkina, ranked No. 13, Veronika Kudermetova, No. 22, and No. 83 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 French Open runner-up; and the Belarusians Aryna Sabalenka, No. 6 and a semifinalist last year at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and No. 20 Victoria Azarenka, a former world No. 1.The United States Tennis Association has already announced that players from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at the United States Open in August, though not under their nations’ flags.Better Understand the Russia-Ukraine WarHistory and Background: Here’s what to know about Russia and Ukraine’s relationship and the causes of the conflict.How the Battle Is Unfolding: Russian and Ukrainian forces are using a bevy of weapons as a deadly war of attrition grinds on in eastern Ukraine.Russia’s Brutal Strategy: An analysis of more than 1,000 photos found that Russia has used hundreds of weapons in Ukraine that are widely banned by international treaties.Outside Pressures: Governments, sports organizations and businesses are taking steps to punish Russia. Here are some of the sanctions adopted so far and a list of companies that have pulled out of the country.Stay Updated: To receive the latest updates on the war in your inbox, sign up here. The Times has also launched a Telegram channel to make its journalism more accessible around the world.“I have some sympathy for the Russian players, but Wimbledon did the right thing,” said Drysdale, a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1965 and 1966. “We have to do anything possible to send a message to the Kremlin that they are committing crimes against humanity.”In 1964, anti-apartheid demonstrators tried to stop a Davis Cup match in Oslo. Organizers eventually moved the match to a secret location without spectators.Keystone/Getty ImagesThroughout his decades in the sport, Drysdale has witnessed several instances in which tennis and world politics have collided. A native South African, Drysdale, 81, played against Norway in the Davis Cup in 1964 under police protection after demonstrators protesting apartheid tossed rocks and lay down on the court until event organizers were forced to move the match to a secret location without spectators.Drysdale was also a member of the team in 1974 when South Africa, which had been temporarily reinstated after it was banned in 1970, won the Davis Cup by default because India refused to travel to the country over objections to apartheid.And in the Pilic Affair, as it was called at the time, the newly formed ATP, led by Drysdale, objected to the disciplinary action taken against Pilic, which denied him the opportunity to compete at Wimbledon. About 80 men withdrew from the tournament in support of Pilic, including 13 of the top 16 seeds. Wimbledon went on, but with a significantly weakened field.“Our sport is always going to be subjected to political forces, said Drysdale, an ESPN commentator since the network’s inception in 1979. “There’s always something coming around the corner and rearing its head.”If it weren’t for politics, Jimmy Connors might have captured the Grand Slam in 1974. That year, Connors won 94 of 98 matches and 15 of 20 tournaments, including Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. Opens. But he was barred from playing the French Open by the French Tennis Federation and the ATP when he signed a contract to play World TeamTennis, the fledging league founded in part by Billie Jean King. The French federation and the ATP argued that World TeamTennis took players away from tour events.Martina Navratilova in 1975 after requesting asylum in the United States. Navratilova, who was 18 at the time, said in a recent interview, “I knew I was brave at the time, but I had no idea what a political situation it would create.”Associated PressA year later, Navratilova created an international incident when she defected from Czechoslovakia right after losing to Chris Evert in the semifinals of the 1975 U.S. Open. Navratilova, then just 18, felt chafed by the then-Communist Czech government, which controlled her finances, travel visas, even her doubles partners.“I defected because my country wouldn’t let me out,” Navratilova, who would go on to win 18 major singles championships, including nine Wimbledons and four U.S. Opens, said in an interview this month. “I really had no idea what I was doing or when I would see my family again. I knew I was brave at the time, but I had no idea what a political situation it would create.”Seven years after Navratilova’s defection, the Chinese player Hu Na fled her hotel room during the 1982 Federation Cup in California and sought political asylum. Her request was granted, but only once, in 1985, did Hu reach the third round at Wimbledon. She ultimately settled in Taiwan.Andy Roddick doesn’t like to take credit, but he is partly responsible for Shahar Peer of Israel being allowed to compete in the United Arab Emirates.In 2009, Peer was denied a visa to play in a WTA tournament in Dubai. The U.A.E. and Israel had no diplomatic relations at the time, and tournament organizers said that Peer’s appearance would incite protests. The move prompted Tennis Channel to cancel its coverage of the tournament.The Israeli player Shahar Peer was allowed to play in a tournament in Dubai in 2010 only after Andy Roddick, the defending champion, refused to compete in the tournament in 2009 because Peer had been denied a visa.Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesRoddick, in support of Peer, pulled out of the Dubai Tennis Championships despite being the defending champion. The next year Peer was granted a visa to compete in Dubai, though she was surrounded by security guards, and her matches, including a semifinal loss to Venus Williams, were relegated to an inconspicuous outside court.Gilbert is sympathetic to the plight of the Ukrainian players and those from Russia and Belarus. He worries that if the players speak out against their governments’ policies they will jeopardize their families at home. Gilbert, a former player, coach and current ESPN analyst, also understands Wimbledon’s position.“You have to realize that Wimbledon is a private, member-owned club,” Gilbert said by phone last week. “The tournament is not run by a national federation the way the Australian, French and U.S. Opens are. Wimbledon makes its own decisions. They don’t answer to anyone.”Anti-apartheid demonstrators in 1977 outside the U.S. Open protesting the participation of South Africans in the tournament.Dave Pickoff/Associated PressGilbert didn’t answer to anyone when he decided to compete in South Africa five times from 1983 to 1988. Even though he said that Arthur Ashe, the president of the ATP, asked him to stay away because of the political situation, Gilbert opted to take both the appearance fees and the prize money.In 1987, Gilbert was vilified for playing in Johannesburg to amass enough points to qualify for the year-end Masters. By reaching the final of the South African Open, he overtook fellow American Tim Mayotte, who refused to compete on moral grounds.“It was probably the wrong thing to do. At 22, what did I know?” said Gilbert, referring to when he first played in South Africa. “I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. Brad Gilbert now wouldn’t go there. I understand now that politics and sports can’t help but be intertwined. Back then I was just dumb.” More

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    Saudi Arabia, Creator of LIV Golf, Casts Its Eye on Women’s Tennis

    The kingdom shook up the PGA Tour with the creation of the LIV Golf series. Now it is pushing to secure a WTA Tour event.With the golf world already divided over Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a powerful force in the game, another major sport is contending with whether to do business with the kingdom.This time it’s women’s tennis, which pulled out of China last year over concerns for the welfare of a player who accused a Chinese vice premier of sexual assault and later disappeared from sight.Saudi Arabia has approached the Women’s Tennis Association about hosting an event, possibly the Tour Finals, but the WTA has not entertained the prospect of a tournament there in any formal fashion.Steve Simon, chief executive of the WTA, declined to be interviewed for this article, but a spokeswoman, Amy Binder, confirmed Saudi Arabia’s interest, saying in a statement, “As a global organization, we are appreciative of inquiries received from anywhere in the world and we look seriously at what each opportunity may bring.”In recent weeks, professional golf has been upended by the start of the LIV Golf Invitational series, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and is paying $4 million prizes to tournament winners, along with participation fees reportedly as high as $200 million. Players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson who have left the PGA Tour and joined LIV Golf have been accused by other players of helping the kingdom to “sportswash” its human rights abuses, among them the 2018 government-sponsored killing of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.Saudi Arabia’s interest in tennis was first reported by The Telegraph in Britain.The kingdom in recent years has invested heavily in sports and cultural events as part of a broader effort to project a new image around the world. The women’s tennis tour would be likely to face questions if it staged events in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights have been curtailed and women gained the right to drive only in 2018. (Saudi Arabia has staged professional women’s golf events, hosting official Ladies European Tour stops each of the last three years.)Peng Shuai of China at the 2019 Australian Open.Edgar Su/ReutersWhen the veteran Chinese player Peng Shuai disappeared last year, Simon demanded a full investigation of her allegations. Peng eventually reappeared, but when Chinese authorities did not allow Peng to meet independently with Simon and the WTA, Simon suspended all of the tour’s business in China, including its 10-year deal to hold the Tour Finals in Shenzen.It was a significant financial blow to the WTA. China had paid a record $14 million in prize money in 2019, the first year of the agreement. That was double the amount of prize money from 2018, when the WTA Finals finished its five-year run in Singapore. The WTA relocated the finals last year to Guadalajara, Mexico, which offered only $5 million in prize money and a drastically reduced payment for the right to host the event.WTA leaders have yet to announce the WTA Finals host city for 2022, and it remains a challenge, with the longer-term Shenzhen deal still in place, to find candidates interested in bidding for the Finals for just one year.Saudi Arabia, with its appetite for international sport and huge financial resources, fits the profile of a potential bidder.“They are interested in women’s sports, and they are interested in big events, so for sure,” said the Austrian businessman and tennis tournament promoter Peter-Michael Reichel.The WTA has held events in Arab countries, including Qatar and Dubai, for years. But Saudi Arabia has yet to secure an official tour event in men’s or women’s tennis despite making increasingly serious offers.Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic were set to play an exhibition there in December 2018 but were put under pressure to cancel it after the assassination of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of that year. The exhibition match was eventually called off with Nadal citing an ankle injury.Daniil Medvedev of Russia played at an event in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, in 2019.Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesA year later, an eight-man tennis exhibition was played in Riyadh in December 2019 ahead of the start of the regular men’s tennis season. The Diriyah Tennis Cup featured the leading ATP players Daniil Medvedev of Russia, Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland and John Isner of the United States and was played in a temporary 15,000-seat stadium. Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority, called hosting the event “another watershed moment for the kingdom” and hit the ceremonial first serve.Reichel helped organize the 2019 exhibition through his company RBG. He said the exhibition had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic but that the plan was to revive the event later this year and include a women’s exhibition tournament.“I’m very optimistic we can develop the tennis business there,” Reichel said in a telephone interview from London on Thursday.Reichel said he believes it’s appropriate for sports to do business with Saudi Arabia, which he said has advanced as a society since he first went there on business in 1983.“I was so positively surprised,” he said. “I was there many times. The international image is talking about the murder of Khashoggi and the driving licenses for women. This is what people know, and there is much more to be reported, I think.”Reichel’s company owns and operates the WTA tournament in Linz, Austria, and the ATP tournament in Hamburg, Germany. He is a member of the WTA board of directors and has been one of those lobbying for Saudi Arabia to have an official tour event. But for now, those efforts have fallen short. The ATP recently rebuffed a proposal that Reichel was involved in to relocate an existing event to Saudi Arabia.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    As the French Open Begins, the War in Ukraine Roils the Locker Room

    “I feel like it’s not united,” Iga Swiatek, the top-ranked women’s player, said of a decision by the tours to punish Wimbledon for barring players from Russian and Belarus.PARIS — The idea by the men’s and women’s tennis tours was to take a strong stand against Wimbledon’s decision to keep out players from Russia and Belarus, then let tennis and competition move the conversation away from politics and the invasion of Ukraine.It has not worked out that way.On Monday, the second day of the French Open, the politics of tennis and Russia reared its head once more. The professional tours’ announcement Friday night that they would not award rankings points this year at Wimbledon, essentially turning the most prestigious event in tennis into an exhibition and punishing players who did well there last year, has roiled the sport, igniting a sharp debate over the game’s role in a deeply unpopular war and dominating the conversation at the year’s second Grand Slam.Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine spoke emotionally about the invasion, saying it has made her care little about winning or losing. Iga Swiatek, the world No. 1, talked of the sport being in disarray. Naomi Osaka, one of the biggest stars, said she was leaning toward skipping Wimbledon if the decision not to award rankings points for match victories there stands.“I feel like it’s not united,” Swiatek said after defeating Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-0, in her opening match while wearing a Ukraine pin on her cap, as she has for the past three months. “It’s all the people who are organizing tournaments, like, for example, WTA, ATP and I.T.F., they all have separate views, and it’s not joint. We feel that in the locker room a little bit, so it’s pretty hard.”Swiatek’s comments came shortly after Tsurenko described how lost she has been since late February. Tsurenko, who was ranked as high as No. 23 in 2019, said she at first wanted simply to go home and figure out how she could help with the war effort, but she decided to keep playing and competed in important tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells, Calif.Then, after an early loss at a tournament in Marbella, Spain, and no tournament on her schedule for another three weeks, she realized she had nowhere to live or train. With the help of another player from Ukraine, Marta Kostyuk, she landed at the Piatti Tennis Center in Italy, but the psychological challenge remains of balancing her career while her country faces an existential threat.“I just want to enjoy every match, but at the same time, I don’t feel that I care too much,” she said. “I’m trying to find this balance between just go on court and don’t care versus try to care. In some cases it helps.”Tsurenko spoke emotionally about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it had made her care little about winning or losing.Thibault Camus/Associated PressAfter feeling emboldened by Wimbledon’s decision to bar players from Russia and Belarus, Tsurenko and her compatriots were disheartened by the WTA’s decision to strike back.“When it’s not in your country you don’t really understand how terrible it is,” Tsurenko said. Compared with what she and her country have been through, giving up the chances for rankings points seems like a small price to pay, she said. “For them, they feel like they are losing their job,” she said of the players who are barred. “I also feel many bad things. I feel a lot of terrible things, and I think, compared to that, losing a chance to play in one tournament is nothing.”She hates the propaganda used by the Russian government to disparage her country. She said no more than five players had expressed their support for her since the start of the war. She dreads being drawn against a Russian player in a tournament.Dayana Yastremska, who is also from Ukraine and who also lost Monday, said the decision to withhold points for Wimbledon was not fair to players from Ukraine.“We are not a happy family right now,” said Yastremska, who still does not have a training base and was unsure where she would spend the next weeks.In an interview this month, Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, said the organization had to live up to its principle that access to tournaments for players should be based on merit alone. He also said that discriminating against a player because of the actions of her country’s government was not acceptable.“I can’t imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through and feeling at this moment, and I feel bad for these athletes who are being asked to take the blame for someone else’s actions,” Simon said.Russian players have expressed disappointment in Wimbledon’s decision and appreciation for the tours’ support in protecting what they view as their right to play, though no player has sought relief in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer with experience in right-to-play cases, said tennis players from Russia and Belarus would most likely have a strong case.“We are professional athletes, we put effort every day in what we do and basically want to work,” said Karen Khachanov of Russia, who won his opening-round match Sunday and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year.One of the few players not to express an opinion was Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1 and member of the WTA Players’ Council, but her distress over the disagreement was clear.Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“I say one thing, it’s going to be criticized; I say another thing, it’s going to be criticized,” said Azarenka, who once had a close relationship with President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus.In its statement Friday, the ATP said its rules and agreements existed to protect the rights of all players as a whole: “Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour. Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a tour that operates in more than 30 countries.”The tangible impact of the ATP and WTA decisions on the sport was evident Monday as Osaka made her feelings known about possibly skipping Wimbledon. She is not a fan of grass surfaces to begin with, and without an opportunity to improve her ranking, she might struggle to find motivation.“The intention was really good, but the execution is kind of all over the place,” Osaka said.Swiatek, who is from Poland, which has supported Ukraine perhaps more than any other country, said locker room conversations, which might once have been about changing balls during matches, have shifted to discussions of war, peace and politics. She stopped short of overtly stating her position, but she hardly masked her sentiments.“All the Russian and Belarusian players are not responsible in what’s going on in their country,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, the sport has been used in politics and we are kind of public personas and we have some impact on people. It would be nice if the people who are making decisions were making decisions that are going to stop Russia’s aggression.” More

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    Felix Auger-Aliassime Seeks Major Success at the French Open

    For years, tennis experts have heralded the promise of Auger-Aliassime, a young Canadian. But can he reach the top in the era of Carlos Alcaraz?PARIS — Before there was Carlos, there was Félix.It is not so easy to recall now, through the haze of the pandemic and the aftershocks of Carlos Alcaraz’s meteoric impact on tennis of late. But there was a time, beginning in roughly 2015, that the tennis cognoscenti raved about a young Canadian named Félix Auger-Aliassime, calling him a potential heir to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.After a quality start to the year but a rocky late winter and spring for Auger-Aliassime, that concept never felt farther away than during his first two sets of the French Open on Sunday. Auger-Aliassime came out flat and wild for the first men’s match on the main stadium court. For 88 minutes he was lost against little-known Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru, 25, who is ranked 122nd and had his opponent complaining to himself and anyone else who would listen.Then, with a few flicks of his forehand, a few blasted serves and some deft drop shots, Auger-Aliassime was back, displaying his unique mix of power, precision, touch and speed. He prevailed, 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, in a 3-hour-14-minute scare that made for a very Félix-like afternoon.Auger-Aliassime made the final of the Roland Garros junior tournament in 2016, at age 15, and then won the U.S. Open boys’ title later that year. He was 6 feet 2 inches (on his way to 6-4), with long arms and fast feet. He could switch directions like a wide receiver. He had broad shoulders that left plenty of room for his torso to fill out and add even more power.He was also polite and courtly, approaching the game with a humility that coaches said drove him to train hard every day. Watching him play a match in his teenage years, Gastão Elias, a longtime Portuguese pro, said Auger-Aliassime “has been an adult since he was 12.”Auger-Aliassime may one day fulfill all the promise of his teenage years. He is just 21, ranked ninth in the world and the youngest member of the top 10 not named Alcaraz. But if he does, the journey will have involved plenty of fits and starts, including losses in his first eight finals and other moments when he seemed about to take off only to fall flat.“The toughest part is always what’s ahead of you, isn’t it?” Auger-Aliassime said. “What you haven’t done before.”Denis Balibouse/ReutersAnd now, as he strives to reach the level of the Big Three — along with Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and so many others — there is Alcaraz to contend with, a 19-year-old charging from the rear, piling up trophies and wins against the game’s greats and making that last, hardest step look easy. In mere months, Alcaraz has changed the calculus for all the 20-somethings, though Auger-Aliassime’s bigger problem of late is inconsistency, not Alcaraz.“Before, it was just Nadal and Federer and Djokovic,” said Louis Borfiga, a longtime French tennis teacher and the architect of Canada’s modern tennis development machine. “Now there is an incredible player coming. He has to work very hard, and he has to stay positive, to believe in himself and his game.”Auger-Aliassime has no illusions about the difficulty of the next step.“The toughest part is always what’s ahead of you, isn’t it?” he said one afternoon last month in Portugal, before being upset in a quarterfinal at a small tournament in which he was the top seed. “What you haven’t done before.”If he can take the final step, Auger-Aliassime could be the sport’s perfect celebrity, a multiracial star with roots on three continents. He grew up in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec, the son of an immigrant from Togo, where he donates hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to children’s causes.He has since moved to Monaco and spends plenty of time in France and Spain, making him a new favorite in Europe.“Allez Félix!” the fans yelled on Sunday as he tried to come back in his match.And the proximity of his childhood to New York, among his other attributes, has endeared him to the U.S. Open crowd, earning him an invitation to last year’s Met Gala, where he wore a white dinner jacket on the red carpet.“We still have borders, but I consider myself a citizen of the world,” he said.Auger-Aliassime was as good as anyone in the world in the first six weeks of the year, leading Canada to the championship of the ATP Cup, getting to match point against Daniil Medvedev (the eventual finalist) in the Australian Open quarters, then seemingly breaking through by winning the Rotterdam Open, his first title.Auger-Aliassime playing Medvedev in an Australian Open quarterfinal match in January. He had a match point but eventually lost.Morgan Sette/ReutersNadal and Federer are invested in his success. Auger-Aliassime occasionally trains at Nadal’s academy in Majorca, working with Nadal’s uncle and former coach, Toni Nadal. Federer texted Auger-Aliassime in February when he finally won his first tournament. “I’m happy for you, well done,” Federer wrote.But more downs than ups have followed, with early losses on hardcourts, which are supposed to be his best surface, and then on clay in Marrakesh, Monte Carlo and Estoril, Portugal, where he was the top seed.“After January, we did not expect the losses, but we know consistency is very difficult,” said Frédéric Fontang, Auger-Aliassime’s coach since 2017. “He does have an ability to absorb and keep learning and always do his best, and that is the first talent that a top player must have.”This is the way it has always been for Auger-Aliassime, ever since his father, Sam Aliassime, a tennis coach in Quebec, introduced him to the sport when he was a boy. Aliassime coached his son until he was 13. Auger-Aliassime then moved to Montreal to train with Canada’s suddenly vibrant development program.Borfiga first saw Auger-Aliassime play as a 6-year-old, but it was four years later that his potential became apparent. Borfiga said he already had a “heavy ball,” a term tennis coaches and players use to describe someone whose strokes naturally produce shots that mix power and spin in a way that makes them difficult to return.Auger-Aliassime’s coach said his physical gifts and his huge serve, big forehand and soft hands made his success nearly inevitable.Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesAuger-Aliassime said he began to grasp how good he might one day be when he won an international junior tournament in Auray, France, when he was 11.“From then on, the belief was there,” he said.His success and personal appeal have attracted plenty of blue-chip endorsements, including a partnership with BNP Paribas, the international bank that is among the biggest sponsors in tennis. For every point Auger-Aliassime wins on tour this year, the bank donates $15 and Auger-Aliassime donates $5 to children’s education in Togo.“He represents the youth,” Jean-Yves Fillion, the chief executive of BNP Paribas USA, said of Auger-Aliassime.And yet there are those vexing defeats — coughing up a two-set lead to the Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev at the 2021 Australian Open; an early loss to Max Purcell, the 190th-ranked player, at the Tokyo Olympics; and a second-round loss at the 2021 National Bank Open on home soil in Toronto to Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. And then there was Sunday’s nervy escape during his first appearance on Philippe Chatrier Court.Auger-Aliassime’s team, led by Fontang, built his schedule in 2022 around opportunities for victories, including more smaller tournaments. If he can start winning those, then maybe winning will become a habit.Fontang wants Auger-Aliassime to be even more aggressive, to take advantage of his power and size by coming to the net more and finishing points.Ettore Ferrari/EPA, via ShutterstockFontang said players with an aggressive style like Auger-Aliassime’s might take longer to reach their full potential because they were more prone to mistakes, though few players are more aggressive than Alcaraz. He said Auger-Aliassime’s physical gifts made his success nearly inevitable in his mind. But Fontang wants Auger-Aliassime to be even more aggressive, to take advantage of his power and size by coming to the net more and finishing points, though that could hasten further inconsistency. “Of course, the future we cannot know, but he just can’t be static,” Fontang said. “What you see with the best players is that there is no part when they are standing still.”Auger-Aliassime has no intention of doing that, even though he knows the path to the top keeps getting narrower the higher he climbs. Tennis math, simple as it is, is exceedingly cruel. There are only 10 players in the top 10, and only one can be No. 1.“The elite,” he said with a shake of his head, “are just so consistent.” More

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    In Tennis, Racket Smashing Gets Out of Hand

    Long accepted as an entertaining idiosyncrasy of the sport, the act of hurling one’s racket has led to some close calls, as ball people and chair umpires dodge injury.After blowing a golden opportunity to break his opponent’s serve late in the second set of his match on Monday at the Miami Open, Jenson Brooksby, the rising American star, whacked his foot with his racket several times in frustration.It was progress for Brooksby, who earlier in the tournament had escaped an automatic disqualification that many tennis veterans — and his opponent — thought was justified after he angrily hurled his racket to the court and it skittered into the feet of a ball person standing behind the baseline.Gets away with it. #Brooksby pic.twitter.com/QGRFA5Uy5w— Tennis GIFs 🎾🎥 (@tennis_gifs) March 24, 2022
    A week earlier, Nick Kyrgios, the temperamental Australian, narrowly missed hitting a ball boy in the face when he flung his racket to the ground following a three-set loss in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. The ATP punished Kyrgios with a $20,000 fine and another $5,000 for uttering an obscenity on the court, but he was allowed to play a few days later in Miami.Kyrgios was at it again on Tuesday during his fourth-round match against Italy’s Jannik Sinner. He threw his racket to the court on his way to losing a first-set tiebreaker, prompting a warning and a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as he shouted at the umpire, Carlos Bernardes. Then, during the changeover, he battered his racket four times against the ground, earning a game penalty.“Do we have to wait until someone starts bleeding?” an exasperated Patrick McEnroe, the former pro and tennis commentator, said recently when asked about the flying rackets.Racket-smashing tantrums have long been accepted as part of the game. Like hockey fights, they are a way for players to blow off steam. But as the broader culture becomes less tolerant of public displays of anger, and with an increasing number of close calls on the court, racket smashing suddenly no longer seems like an entertaining idiosyncrasy.Mary Carillo, the former player and longtime commentator, said the tantrums have never been worse, especially on the ATP Tour, calling them “the most consistently uncomfortable thing to watch.” But chair umpires still resist meting out the most serious punishment.“The reason for conspicuous leniency is that they have to somehow keep a match alive; there are no substitutions,” Carillo said of the chair umpires. “Tennis players, especially tennis stars, know they have incontestable leverage over the chair.”Alexander Zverev smashed his racket on the umpire’s chair after losing a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February.MexTenis, via Associated PressLike most people in tennis, McEnroe was stunned when the ATP recently handed down a suspended eight-week ban to Alexander Zverev, who repeatedly beat on the umpire’s chair at the end of a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February, coming with inches of cracking his racket into the official’s feet.Psychologists have found that expressing anger physically tends to hurt performance and can encourage subsequent outbursts. In an oft-cited 1959 study by the psychologist R.H. Hornberger, participants listened to insults before being divided into two groups. One group pounded nails. The other sat quietly. The group that pounded nails was far more hostile to those who criticized them.And yet these days, racket smashing feels contagious. There was Naomi Osaka’s display during her third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open last year. Novak Djokovic’s during the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. Even Roger Federer has had his moments. Rafael Nadal, by contrast, is famously gentle with his equipment and has said he never will smash his racket.Even Andy Roddick, the former world No. 1, got cheeky on the subject, taking to Twitter last week with a tongue-in-cheek tutorial on how to safely smash a racket and whack a ball without endangering anyone.Smashing and throwing a racket, not to mention swats of the ball — that hit, or nearly hit, and possibly injure people on the court or in the stadium — fall under equipment abuse in the sport’s rule books. To the frustration of some of the biggest names in tennis, those codes are more gray than black and white.Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion who is covering the Miami Open for Tennis Channel, expressed the sentiments of many after Brooksby’s racket made contact with the ball person.“If it hit the ball boy, they need to disqualify him,” she said.Brooksby and Kyrgios lost in Miami on Tuesday, but Zverev advanced to the quarterfinals and has a good chance of winning one of the top titles on the ATP Tour, even though some in tennis believe he should be on the sidelines serving a suspension.A spokesman for the ATP, which does not publicly discuss individual penalties, said Brooksby received a $15,000 fine, $5,000 less than the maximum $20,000 a player can receive for an incident from tournament officials. That amounted to less than half of the $30,130 he guaranteed himself by winning the match, and the $94,575 he ultimately collected for making it to the fourth round.Kyrgios was fined $20,000 for nearly hitting the ball boy following his loss to Nadal at Indian Wells, where he collected nearly $180,000 for making the quarterfinals. He, too, will earn, $94,575 in Miami, less whatever fines he receives for his behavior on Tuesday.Zverev, who has earned more than $30 million in career prize money, had to forfeit his earnings from the Mexican Open, and the ATP fined him $65,000, but the suspended ban has allowed him — in less than two tournaments — to more than triple in prize money what his outburst cost him.The ATP is considering whether, given recent increases in prize money, an increase in fines could deter players. Fines for racket abuse on the ATP Tour begin at $500, compared with $2,500 on the WTA Tour.Other than that, the codes for men and women are similar: No violently hitting or kicking or throwing a racket — or any piece of equipment for that matter, and no physical abuse or attempted abuse against ball people, umpires, judges or spectators.Still, tennis officials have a somewhat ambiguous understanding of when disqualification is warranted. It goes sort of like this: If you throw a racket, or whack a ball at someone intentionally in an attempt to hit or intimidate them, then you are automatically disqualified, whether you succeed or fail. However, if you throw or smash a racket or whack a ball without consideration of its direction, and it ends up hitting someone, then tournament officials have to assess whether an injury has occurred.If someone is indeed injured, as when Djokovic inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat at the 2020 U.S. Open, the player is automatically disqualified. But if no one is injured, as when Brooksby’s racket skittered into the ball person’s foot, the umpires will assess a penalty and tournament officials will fine the player — no disqualification necessary.Both Brooksby and Zverev quickly posted apologies for their actions on social media and personally apologized to the people involved. “I was grateful to have a second chance,” Brooksby told Tennis Channel on Monday.Kyrgios is a repeat offender. In a news conference following the Indian Wells match, he berated journalists who questioned him about the racket toss that nearly clipped a ball boy’s head, and was unapologetic.“It most definitely wasn’t like Zverev,” he said. “It was complete accident. I didn’t hit him.”Only after an avalanche of criticism on social media did Kyrgios issue an apology. The next day, he posted a video of himself giving the boy a racket.Following his match on Tuesday, Kyrgios played the victim, criticizing Bernardes for speaking to the crowd while Kyrgios was trying to serve. He seemed not to understand why the ATP had come down so hard on him for the incident at Indian Wells, given, he said, that Dennis Shapovalov had inadvertently hit a fan with a ball and received just a $5,000 fine. In fact, Shapovalov hit a chair umpire and was fined $7,000.“I can throw a racket at Indian Wells,” Kyrgios said, “didn’t even hit anyone, and I’m getting 25 grand.” More

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    Comebacks for Wawrinka and Thiem Will Have to Be Continued

    Once ranked as high as No. 3, the rusty tennis stars used a low-level Challenger event to get back to action after injuries. It was harder than it seemed.Tennis’s minor leagues are still a major challenge. The latest evidence arrived on Tuesday in Marbella, Spain, where Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem, two of the game’s biggest achievers, launched a dual comeback at a low-level Challenger Tour event.Neither had played in far too long, and neither won a set against players ranked outside the top 100, with Wawrinka losing, 6-2, 6-4, to Elias Ymer of Sweden, and Thiem following them to the main stadium and losing, 6-3, 6-4, to Pedro Cachin of Argentina.“These guys, even on the challenger tour, their level is extremely high, and as you well know the difference between being 150 or being 50 in the world, there’s not a huge difference in tennis level,” said Daniel Vallverdu, Wawrinka’s coach. “Most of it is mental and luck.”It was indeed a reality check for Wawrinka and Thiem, who once were ranked as high as No. 3 and are among the precious few to have made a splash in an era otherwise dominated by Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.Thiem, 28, won the 2020 U.S. Open, becoming the first player outside the Big Three to win a Grand Slam singles title in four years. Wawrinka, who turned 37 on Monday, has won three Grand Slam singles titles, joining Andy Murray as the only man outside the Big Three to have won multiple major singles titles in the last 20 years.But Thiem and Wawrinka are both far from their peaks, and Tuesday’s quick exits were a reminder of how far each has to go. Wawrinka had not played a match for nearly a year; Thiem for nearly nine months.It showed.“Rusty would be the word,” said Mark Petchey, the former ATP player who has coached Murray. “Challengers are a rough place.”It is rare to see a star like Wawrinka or Thiem at this level, but hardly unprecedented. Andre Agassi dropped down and played two Challenger events at the end of the 1997 season when his ranking had fallen to No. 141. He used the experience as a building block to reconstruct his career, eventually returning to No. 1. His longevity was a model for this generation of enduring champions.In his autobiography, “Open,” Agassi wrote that a tour official had likened his Challenger appearances to Bruce Springsteen playing a corner bar.“What’s wrong with Springsteen playing a corner bar?” Agassi wrote.Nothing at all, as long as the corner bar is packed with fans thrilled by their good fortune. Tuesday’s vibe in Marbella was far from electric, with the stands in the main Manolo Santana Stadium less than half full for both Wawrinka’s and Thiem’s matches. On average, only about 4,000 viewers were watching the livestream made available by the tour, but those numbers underplay the significance of Wawrinka and Thiem returning to action.At different phases of their careers, with nine years between them, they are in similarly gray areas when it comes to their futures.Wawrinka, suffering from long-term pain in his left foot, finally decided that he could take no more and underwent two surgeries, the first in March 2021 and then a second, more significant procedure in June that involved work on his Achilles’ tendon. Thiem, who takes particularly aggressive cuts at his groundstrokes, injured his right wrist during a grass-court tournament on the Spanish island of Mallorca in June but did not resort to surgery, opting instead for immobilization with a splint and extensive rehabilitation.Dominic Thiem in his first match in nine months in Marbella, Spain.Antonio Paz/EPA, via ShutterstockHe has repeatedly delayed his comeback, finally choosing to return on the red clay that remains his favorite surface. But one of Thiem’s strengths has been his ability to thrive in extended rallies, and on Tuesday his baseline game kept breaking down. He lost the first five games to the 228th-ranked Cachin before recovering and making it a match, but the frustration was audible down the stretch as he lectured himself, gesticulated between points and remained unable to break Cachin’s serve down the stretch.Wawrinka was sluggish at the start as well, misfiring with his signature one-handed backhand. He briefly found his range early in the second set, going up two service breaks against the 131st-ranked Ymer. But Ymer, far quicker around the clay, reeled Wawrinka in by sweeping the last five games.“Obviously looking at it from the outside it looks different, but for me and for Stan this match is a huge step in the right direction,” Vallverdu said by telephone. “The goal in the last six to eight weeks was to get back on court and to be able to do that without thinking about the body or any injuries. The fact he’s able to play a professional tennis match again is a huge step considering where he was about three months ago where from our perspective we didn’t even know if he would be able to play again.”Wawrinka has said he did not want to end his career with an injury, similar to what Federer, his friend and Swiss compatriot, has said as he tries to work his way back at age 40 from his latest knee surgery and long layoff. For now, the only major winner in this golden era who has bid farewell, however informally, is Juan Martin del Potro. Even Andy Murray, with an artificial hip joint, plays on and has rehired Ivan Lendl as his coach to help him get the most out of his remaining years.“I think for someone like Stan, the fact that the other guys are still around is definitely a factor,” Vallverdu said. “I think if one or two of them quit, it will have a bit of a domino effect.” Wawrinka only resumed practicing on a court at the end of February, and, with the pandemic hiatus on tour in 2020, he has played few matches over the last three seasons. His next stop will be the Monte Carlo Masters, where he has a wild card and where the field, featuring most of the top 10, will be significantly stronger than in Marbella. Thiem plans to be there, too, after playing in next week’s tournament in Marrakesh, Morocco.But evaluating their comebacks will take quite a bit longer. They need competition. They need the confidence that their bodies and shots will hold up on the points that matter most. More

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    Taylor Fritz Defeats Nadal at Indian Wells, Fulfilling a Prediction

    The tournament has been a launching pad for young players recently, including Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, who went on to win the U.S. Open in the same year.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Back in the day, Taylor Fritz and his father Guy would drive north on the highway from San Diego, come over the Santa Rosa Mountains and navigate the switchback turns down to the Coachella Valley, where the world’s best tennis players gather every March in Indian Wells.Fritz, a talented junior, was just another boy patrolling the courts and hunting for fun and autographs, including Rafael Nadal’s, but Fritz’s father told him something extraordinary.“He told me that I was going to win this tournament one day,” Fritz said.On Sunday, Fritz, now 24, did just that: holding off a diminished but still dangerous Nadal, one of the greatest players in tennis’s long history.“This is seriously like a childhood dream come true,” said Fritz, fighting off tears after fighting off Nadal, 6-3, 7-6 (5). “Like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen.”Guy Fritz, who peaked at No. 301 in the ATP rankings in 1979, long believed in his son, who has reached No. 8 with this victory. But it has taken Taylor until now to develop the faith and the forehand to take out a champion like Nadal at such a tournament.It is a Masters 1000 event, a step below a Grand Slam tournament but the top-tier category on the regular tour, and Indian Wells has become a signature stop. It has vast grounds, excellent facilities and robust attendance even if this year’s total of 329,764 fans, with vaccination required for spectators, was no match for the prepandemic figure of 475,372 in 2019.The event also has strong backing from its billionaire owner Larry Ellison, who was sitting in the front row of his box on Sunday to watch Nadal, his friend and regular houseguest, try to remain unbeaten in 2022.Like Roger Federer, Nadal has endured and impressed long enough to transcend nationality. A Spaniard, Nadal has been on tour for nearly 20 years and won his record 21st Grand Slam singles title at this year’s Australian Open.Fritz, who grew up in nearby San Diego County in the elite enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, considers the BNP Paribas Open his “home tournament,” and though he did get considerable support, it sometimes felt like he was playing an away game against Nadal.But Fritz would not be denied as he finished off the victory on his second match point, ripping a forehand approach shot down the line that the lunging Nadal could not handle.“No way!” the wide-eyed Fritz shouted repeatedly.A title certainly had looked unlikely a few hours earlier when Fritz walked onto the same court and shouted in anguish as he attempted to push off on his right foot during a warm-up session that lasted only a few minutes. “Like, the worst pain imaginable,” he said. “I was really upset, basically almost crying, because I thought I was going to have to pull out.”After numbing the ankle with painkilling treatment, he went back out to hit on an outside court and felt better. But his coaches, Michael Russell and Paul Annacone, and fitness trainer, Wolfgang Oswald, all advised against him playing in the final, concerned Fritz might do longer-term damage to the ankle he had twisted in the semifinal on Saturday.Fritz ignored the advice. “I feel bad for those guys: I’m so stubborn,” he said. “I went out there, and I seriously played the match with zero pain.”Still, he has scheduled for Monday a magnetic resonance imaging scan on his ankle. It looks much more unlikely that he will play in this week’s Miami Open than it does for Iga Swiatek, who won the women’s singles title earlier on Sunday.Iga Swiatek celebrated after defeating Maria Sakkari to win the women’s singles title.Ray Acevedo/EPA, via ShutterstockSwiatek, the 20-year-old Polish star who is as thoughtful as she is powerful, defeated Maria Sakkari, 6-4, 6-1, in what was a match for the title but also for the No. 2 ranking.Swiatek, now ranked only behind Ashleigh Barty, was the more reliable force in the gusting wind with her heavy groundstrokes, particularly the forehand that she hits with extreme topspin, like her role model Nadal. Until this year, her biggest titles have come on clay: above all the 2020 French Open title that she won at age 19 without dropping a set.But Swiatek clearly has the skill and will to be No. 1 and an all-surface threat. After winning the WTA 1000 in Doha, Qatar on a hardcourt, she ran her winning streak to 11 matches by winning for the first time in Indian Wells.This tournament has been the site of big breakthroughs in recent years: Naomi Osaka won in 2018 and went on to claim her first major at that year’s U.S. Open; Bianca Andreescu did the same double in 2019.Fritz, who had never reached a Masters 1000 final until this tournament, required third-set tiebreakers to get past Jaume Munar and Alex de Minaur and three sets to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic before finding his form and range against Andrey Rublev on Saturday.“His victory of yesterday is much bigger than his victory of today, because he had a much tougher opponent,” Nadal said of the Rublev match.Nadal’s glum comment was a reference to the pain that he began feeling in his chest late in his windblown semifinal victory over Spanish compatriot Carlos Alcaraz on Saturday.Nadal had to stretch and strain to adjust his shots to those unpredictable conditions, and though he said he had not yet received a clear diagnosis, it was possible that, in contorting himself in the wind against Alcaraz, he had strained a pectoral muscle or intercostal muscle near his ribs.“When I try to breathe, it’s painful and very uncomfortable,” said Nadal, now 20-1 in 2022. “But that’s it no? It’s not the moment to talk about that, honestly. Even if it’s obvious that I was not able to do the normal things today. That’s it. It’s a final. I tried. I lost against a great player.”Fritz’s parents were touring professionals who helped to shape his game when he was young. His mother Kathy May was ranked as high as No. 10 in singles in 1977 on the WTA Tour and reached three Grand Slam singles quarterfinals during her career.After her son’s victory, May spoke courtside with Martina Navratilova, whom May once defeated on tour, and later posed for photographs on court with her son.Fritz was married at 18 and is the father of a 5-year-old son Jordan but is now divorced and traveling with his girlfriend Morgan Riddle.“She’s so committed to making sure I’m doing all the right things, like I’m going to bed on time,” he said in an interview. “It’s just someone who’s holding me accountable, who also wants the same things I want, and it’s amazing just to have someone who cares and who can help me do the right things.”What Fritz wanted this season was a place in the top 10, and now he has one. He was ranked No. 39 in early October but said he tweaked his forehand technique after watching footage of a junior match he played against Rublev. “We were just absolutely crushing the ball,” Fritz said. “I watched exactly how I was hitting my forehand and just tried to copy it as much as possible.”He reached the semifinals in Indian Wells last year when the tournament was delayed and played in October, and he has been defeating top 20 players with regularity since then. He is the first American to win the singles in Indian Wells since 2001 when Andre Agassi won the men’s title and Serena Williams won the women’s title.Fritz was 3 at the time. But Indian Wells soon became a regular part of his life and when he returned this year, he looked up at the big photograph of reigning men’s champion Cameron Norrie on the wall of the players’ lounge and imagined his own photo taking its place.“All week, I was like, it would be so cool for that to be my picture,” he said. Mission accomplished, and a long-ago prediction has also come true.“He was just really, really proud of me,” Fritz said of his father, tearing up as he smiled. “It’s really tough to get a compliment out of him.” More

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    At Indian Wells, Daniil Medvedev Faces Backlash Over Ukraine Invasion

    At Indian Wells, the Russian fell in the third round to Gael Monfils of France, as Medvedev faced criticism that Russian players should not be competing because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Daniil Medvedev’s reign as the No. 1 men’s tennis player will not last long — at least, not this time.Medvedev, a 26-year-old Russian, took over the top spot for the first time in his career last week from Novak Djokovic, but his third-round loss to Gael Monfils on Monday will allow Djokovic to reclaim the No. 1 ranking next week. Djokovic will ascend even though he was unable to play in the BNP Paribas Open because of the vaccination requirement for non-American visitors to the United States.Medvedev, who is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, did make the journey to California, although some of his peers believe he also should not have been allowed to compete at Indian Wells because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.Russian athletes have been banned from most international team competitions and some individual events, including World Cup competitions in biathlon and skiing and the recently concluded Beijing Winter Paralympics.Marta Kostyuk, a rising Ukrainian star, said at Indian Wells that she did not think Russian tennis players like Medvedev should be allowed to compete. But after lengthy debate, tennis’s governing bodies have decided to preserve players’ right to compete individually as neutrals while banning Russia and Belarus, its ally, from team events like the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.Medvedev is grateful to keep his job, but all too aware that these are fluid, deeply sensitive circumstances. “First of all, it’s definitely not for me to decide,” he said. “I follow the rules. I cannot do anything else. Right now, the rule is that we can play under our neutral flag.”But the war certainly changes the optics of matches like Monday’s.Gael Monfils after winning his third-round match at Indian Wells.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via ReutersMonfils, a Frenchman, recently married Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s biggest tennis star, who was watching from his player box on Monday as the Ukrainian flag flapped in the breeze in its new place of honor atop the main stadium at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The flag was installed there this year next to the American one in a show of support for Ukraine.Monfils, ranked No. 28 at age 35, said he did not view Monday’s match — or his surprising, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, victory — through a political lens, but a personal one.“I’m not very political in general,” he said in French. “I’m a support for my wife. A sad thing has come to her country. I try to do the maximum to support her in whatever she chooses to do, but today we were here for playing. I’m simply happy to have won my match.”Monfils said that it had been difficult to see the distress of his Ukrainian in-laws.“It’s not easy to see my wife a couple weeks ago crying every night,” he said in English. “Still quite a lot of family still there. It’s tough describe because I’m in it. And it’s just kind of crazy when you think about it, but we try to manage it the best way we can.”Kostyuk, beaten in the second round here, said she was upset that more Russian players had not approached her to apologize directly for the invasion, but many of the Russian and Belarusian stars, including Medvedev, have called for peace. Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1, said she had sought out Ukrainian players since the war began last month.“Whatever I say I know can be twisted in many, many different ways,” she said. “But one thing that’s missing in this world is compassion toward each other and empathy. That’s something I feel I can offer to people.”Medvedev’s short stint at No. 1 has not been business as usual. Reaching the top spot in the rankings is one of tennis’s ultimate achievements, and Medvedev is the first man outside the Big Four of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to reign at No. 1 since early 2004.In normal times, that would have been cause for fanfare. But these are traumatic times, and though the ATP Tour did award Medvedev the crystal trophy it reserves for first-time No. 1 players and hold a photo shoot with his support team, there was no media tour; no series of promotional events and interviews.His management company, I.M.G., has said that no sponsors have dropped Medvedev since the war began, but this is not an appropriate climate for Medvedev to be searching for new international sponsors.A courtside sign at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.Ray Acevedo/EPA, via ShutterstockWith the war, it is prudent for Russian stars to maintain a low profile. Speaking out against the war or President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could carry risks for them and their relatives who are still in Russia or Belarus.“I don’t think you should ask them to be more vocal about it, because they have family to consider, and now, you know, they can get 15 years in prison for talking about the war,” said Martina Navratilova, the former top-ranked player who defected in 1975 to the United States from Czechoslovakia when it was part of the Soviet bloc.Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 4A show of E.U. support. More