Tennis-With no ranking points, Henman hopes Wimbledon prestige will lure players

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 5, 2021 General view as spectators watch a big screen outside court 1 during the fourth round Pool via REUTERS/Joe Toth

(Reuters) - Wimbledon may have been stripped of its ranking points by the ATP and WTA Tours over excluding players from Russia and Belarus but that should not stop players competing at the tournament, former British number one Tim Henman has said.

The move by the men's and women's tours will reduce Wimbledon -- the world's most prestigious tennis tournament -- to an exhibition event and set the Grand Slam's organisers on a collision course with the governing bodies.

Four-time semi-finalist Henman said he had "enormous sympathy" for Russian and Belarusian players, banned after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but hoped others would not skip the grasscourt major which is scheduled for June 27-July 10.

Belarus has been a key staging area for the invasion, which Moscow calls a 'special military operation'.

"This whole scenario around Russian and Belarusian players being refused entry into Wimbledon is such a difficult situation and it's really unfortunate for all parties involved," Henman told Eurosport on Monday.

"I don't think players will end up skipping the Championships... A Wimbledon title is going to be about a lot more than the ranking points.

"It's a difficult situation. Hopefully the history and the prestige is going to be at the forefront of players' minds so they are going to be ready and raring to compete on the grass."

Japan;s four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said she was "not 100% sure" of playing at Wimbledon because she was a player motivated by seeing her ranking go up.

Sweden's seven-time major champion Mats Wilander said he respected Osaka's answer.

"I think it's very possible that a lot of players are not going to play Wimbledon because of the ranking points and maybe someone like Naomi Osaka doesn't go to Wimbledon to necessarily think that she can win it," Wilander said.

"She hasn't done that well there in the past and I think there's a lot of players that go to Wimbledon and hope to get a good draw and make the fourth round. That's mainly because of ranking points.

"But then there's a lot of players that are absolutely never going to miss Wimbledon. But it's going to be interesting to see for sure. I will respect players that don't go... Ranking, for a lot of players, is as important as winning big tournaments."

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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