The invasion of Ukraine is continuing to have an impact on the tennis world at this year’s Australian Open.
Players from Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete at Melbourne Park, but only as neutral players not under the name or flag of their country.
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“Players from Russia and Belarus are only able to compete in international tennis events as individuals – and without flags or country recognition – which will be the case for Australian Open 2023,” Tennis Australia said in a statement to WWOS.
“Tennis Australia stands united with the international governing bodies of tennis – the grand slams, the ATP and WTA Tours and the ITF – in its condemnation of Russia’s actions and its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” it said.
“The governing bodies of tennis issued a statement in March 2022 expressing shock, distress and sadness, along with a pledge to provide ongoing support for the people of Ukraine.
Several top players are affected by the flag ban, including Russia’s Daria Kasatkina and a star Belarusian duo — World No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
Eagle-eyed viewers noticed the small squares on the TV coverage usually occupied by the flag of a player’s country were instead empty white spaces for Russian and Belarusian players.
A blank space also appears next to their names on the list of match results on Google.
Last year’s runner-up Danielle Collins beat Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya in a tough three-setter in the first round, but watching the game on TV, you wouldn’t have known which country Kalinskaya was from.
There was also an empty space next to Azarenka’s name during her match against Sofia Kenin.
Kasatkina won Wimbledon last year but the ATP and WTA’s decision not to award players ranking points for their efforts at the All England Club meant she didn’t climb as high as usual in the rankings.
The World No. 8 has been relegated to the outside courts for her first round match in Melbourne against Varvara Gracheva.
On the men’s side, gun players who won’t have a flag next to their name include Russian contender Daniil Medvedev and his countrymen Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov.
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