Novak Djokovic’s father has insisted he was unwittingly caught up in a pro-Russian demonstration at the Australian Open but has decided not to attend his son’s semi-final against Tommy Paul.
A video on a Russian activist’s YouTube channel emerged on Thursday showing Srdjan Djokovic standing with a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it and wearing a t-shit bearing the Z symbol that demonstrates support for the war in Ukraine.
In a statement released by the tennis star’s representatives, Mr Djokovic senior said: “I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption.
“I was outside with Novak’s fans as I have done after all of my son’s matches to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this.
“My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace. So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.
“I wish for a great match and I will be cheering for my son, as always.”
Srdjan Djokovic made no comment about a translation on the video that claims he said “long live Russia”. The remark has been translated by Serbian journalists as a simple goodbye.
Djokovic’s parents have travelled to Australia for the first time since his first title in 2008 to offer support to their son following his deportation last year.
A number of Russia supporters gathered on the steps outside Rod Laver Arena following Djokovic’s quarter-final victory over Russian Andrey Rublev.
Waving flags and chanting “Russia, Serbia”, they were eventually tackled by security, with four people questioned by police over the flags and threatening security guards.
Australian Open organisers have been criticised for not stopping the demonstration sooner, with the video showing they were allowed to remain on the steps for several minutes.
In a statement, Tennis Australia said: “After the events of Wednesday night, we acted swiftly to work with police and our security teams to have the instigators of the protest removed from the venue.
“Throughout the event we’ve spoken with players and their teams about the importance of not engaging in any activity that causes distress or disruption.
“Mr Srdjan Djokovic has issued a statement confirming that he will not attend tonight’s semi-final.
“We will continue to strive for the safety of fans at the event and reiterate our position banning flags from Belarus and Russia.
“Tennis Australia stands with the call for peace and an end to war and violent conflict in Ukraine.”
Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk questioned why the demonstration was allowed to continue for so long.
“It hurts a lot because there were specific rules that were printed out outside,” she said. “It’s not impossible, but you’re not allowed to bring out the flags and so on. It really hurts that they were there for quite some time.
“They were there on the court, in the stands as well. It really hurts and I don’t understand how this can be possible.”
One man was pictured with a Z symbol on his t-shirt in the stands having previously covered it up with another t-shirt supporting Djokovic.
There was incredulity when the same man was seen in the front row for Djokovic’s clash with Paul. It is understood that police questioned the man on Wednesday but accepted the Z on his t-shirt referenced his name rather than any support for Russian aggression.
Wimbledon organisers are currently in the process of deciding whether to maintain their ban on Russian and Belarusian players for this year’s tournament.
These scenes will certainly have given them pause for thought and Kostyuk urged them to keep the sanction.
“I think yes,” she said. “Because I cannot imagine if someone Russian or Belarusian wins the tournament and then the royal family has to hold the trophies with them. I hardly imagine this. This is one of the big reasons they actually banned them.”
Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka will take on current Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the final of the Australian Open on Saturday and is likely to be one of the favourites at the All England Club if she is allowed to play.
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