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“Take a racket and blow home.” How the CPSU forced the star tennis player to leave Wimbledon

Date: June 25, 2024 Time: 15:21:41

Politics and sports almost always go hand in hand. That’s the way it is today, and that’s the way it was 50 years ago. Tennis in this sense is not indicative, but a remarkable sport, especially given its original aristocracy. In 2022, Russian and Belarusian athletes could not participate in the main Grand Slam grass tournament, Wimbledon, precisely because of the political history. But in 1964, it was the Soviet leadership that decided to remove the best tennis player from the tournament at that time. A terrible scandal broke out when Alexander Metreveli was ordered not to go to the match against an opponent from South Africa.

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With the onset of the Cold War, relations between the USSR and South Africa began to deteriorate dramatically due to rising anti-communist sentiment in the African country after the National Party came to power. It is curious that the rupture of diplomatic relations between the countries was initiated by the South African side. This state of affairs caused a long period of complete emptiness in official relations between the Soviet side and South Africa. It could not but affect the sport.

It was these events that led to the refusal of the young and talented Soviet tennis player Alexander Metreveli. The party leadership banned Abe Sehgal from playing. At that time, our athlete reached the third round. And he was potentially a favorite by a wide margin. From then on, his statement was accepted with the utmost bewilderment. And it caused a huge scandal.

Foreign media were literally full of articles saying that the top leaders of the USSR “ordered” the young tennis player to withdraw from the tournament. A devastating article was published in the American press with the following message: “The act of the Soviet tennis player, carried out five years after the start of the USSR’s participation in international tennis competitions, will have serious consequences that can significantly slow down the efforts of the Soviet Union to become one of the major tennis powers”.

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Surprisingly, the USSR was the first participant in the British tournament, which caused such a high-profile political scandal. In Wimbledon’s 78-year history, not a single tennis player has withdrawn from the tournament for political reasons. However, Metreveli insisted that he made the decision himself and that his motives were entirely different. The Soviet side was followed by socialist Hungary. Istvan Gulyash, following Metreveli, refused a doubles duel, where the same unlucky South African Abe Segal was supposed to be the opponent from the opposite side of the grid. But, unlike Alexander, the Hungarian immediately admitted that he acted on orders “from above.”

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The official bodies of the London tournament were also outraged and threatened the Soviet side with consequences: “The Soviets were in top tennis for only 5 years, and they have already created the only political problem in the history of the tournament. Competition administrators may reject Soviet entries in the future if such statements and steps continue.”

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But this was not the only scandal in the world of tennis associated with the refusal of the USSR to fight on the courts with South Africa. So, in 1966, the Soviet team in the Davis Cup was supposed to meet the Italians at a party. Even before leaving for Bologna, sports officials demanded that Soviet tennis leader Alexander Metreveli not play his game with an opponent. In Moscow, they became alert when they realized that going through the key of the tournament would lead the USSR team to a meeting with the South African team.

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However, there were no penalties for withdrawing from the tournament. Alexander Metreveli the following year reached the third round of the tournament in the same way, where he lost to an opponent from Brazil. In 1973, the main grass tournament was boycotted by 81 tennis players, including the leaders of the ranking. Politics has become the culprit. This time, Yugoslavia’s top racket Nikola Pilic was disqualified by his own federation for refusing to play in the Davis Cup team against New Zealand. Although Pilic denied such accusations, Yugoslav officials were furious. In protest, many players withdrew from the tournament at the same time, thanks to which the 13th seed Metreveli moved down to fourth, giving him the chance to take an easier path to the final. In the main match, Alexander lost to Jan Kodesh from Czechoslovakia (1:6, 8:9 (5-7), 3:6). By the way, the tie-break that occurred in the second set was the first in the history of the final matches on the Wimbledon courts.

* This website provides news content gathered from various internet sources. It is crucial to understand that we are not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, or reliability of the information presented Read More

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.
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