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British No 1 Cameron Norrie has warned that top players will stay away from Wimbledon this summer because there are no rankings points to play for.
Speaking to reporters in Paris, Norrie was critical of Friday’s decision – announced almost simultaneously by the ATP and WTA Tours – to take points away from the year’s biggest tournament and thus turn it into what he called “almost an exhibition”.
Although no one has yet announced that they will sit Wimbledon out, Norrie predicted that some of the wealthier players – who also tend to be the biggest draws for the public – may not feel motivated enough to attend.
“Wimbledon is still such a special event,” said Norrie. “But I think you’ll see a lot of top players not playing, just resting and getting ready for the hard-court events. Especially those that don’t worry too much about the money.”
This is a worrying prediction for the All England Club, who have become used to having their pick of the best players since the infamous boycott year of 1973. (That was the season when only a handful of recognisable names turned out in SW19 in protest over a political dispute involving Yugoslavia’s Niki Pilic.)
Wimbledon can still offer heaps of cash. The prize fund is expected to reach something close to £40million, with around £50,000 available even to singles players who lose in the first round. But then, as Norrie points out, cash alone is not always hugely appealing to a multi-millionaire.
“Obviously it’s an extremely difficult situation with everything going on with the war,” said Norrie, who arrived in Paris on Saturday night after winning the fourth ATP title of his career in Lyon that same day. “But for me it's tough. You're not really playing for anything.
“This changes the ranking systems a lot. They've taken away almost 6,000, 5,000 points from the whole system out of out of nowhere, so it's gonna interfere with the rankings and then a lot of players that did well at Wimbledon last year are going to be dropping.”
Norrie himself would have been defending points from the third round, which is the stage of Wimbledon at which he was eliminated by Roger Federer last year. Overall, he will be one of the less affected players, but someone like Matteo Berrettini – last year’s runner-up – is now certain to plummet down the rankings ladder.
As to whether the majority of players disagreed with the tours’ decision, Norrie said: “I would say, now, yes.” And when he was asked what had changed since the original ATP Player Council meeting of May 9 – which delivered almost unanimous support for the stripping of rankings points from Wimbledon – he explained that it had taken players a while to understand exactly what was being proposed.
“I think it was people didn’t really know if it was going to be points dropping from last year,” said Norrie, “or how it was going to work - whether it was going to be 50 per cent points or different things happening.
“Now, in my opinion, everyone’s going to take the point of view which suits them better. If you did well at Wimbledon, then you are going to think: ‘Ah, there should be points or whatever.’ In my opinion, I haven’t spoken to a lot of players but I think most would be upset you know that there are not points.”
'Players not on the council did not have much choice or information'
Norrie spoke so intelligently on this issue that the whole of tennis might have benefited from his views. But he wasn’t one of the seven men on the ATP Player Council, and thus had no formal input.
“Players not on the council did not have much choice or information on the fact,” Norrie said. “Obviously Wimbledon went ahead and made the statement first. No one had a choice in that. Then the ATP went and did that.
“I put my opinion forward to the council. I don't know if it meant anything. Not a letter. I was just saying: ‘I think there should be points in Wimbledon this year.’
“I understand the situation is tricky. And there are complications everywhere. But, for me, that's how I feel.”
Norrie and the other four British players in the main draw of the French Open are all scheduled to play on Monday, although the weather forecast is not promising. He has been drawn against Manuel Guinard, a French wild card ranked No 158 in the world.
“I’m winning more than I was a couple years ago,” Norrie explained. “So I want to do better in the bigger tournaments. This year, I especially wanted to go and tick the box of making it into the second week [of a major tournament] for the first time. So I’m going to go out and do what I do best and take it to whoever I play, round by round.”