Novak Djokovic's father misses semi-final after emergence of a video showing him posing with fans holding Russian flags; nine-time champion says the incident affected him and that his family are "against the war"
Friday 27 January 2023 22:13, UK
Novak Djokovic has addressed the controversy over his father posing with Russian fans at the Australian Open, admitting "it's not something I need" as he pursues a 10th Melbourne title.
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-shirt bearing the Z symbol that demonstrates support for the war in Ukraine.
Djokovic Sr, who said he was unwittingly caught up in the scene and made it clear he was not supporting the war, stayed away from his son's semi-final clash with American Paul.
The nine-time champion showed no sign of being affected by the row as he won in convincing style - 7-5 6-1 6-2 - to set up a contest with Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday's final.
But speaking after his semi-final match Djokovic, who missed last year's tournament following a row over a visa and his Covid vaccination status, said: "Of course, it's not pleasant for me to go through this with all the things that I had to deal with last year and this year in Australia. It's not something that I want or need. I hope that people will let it be, and we can focus on tennis.
"It was unfortunate that the misinterpretation of what happened has escalated to such a high level. There was a lot of conversations with the tournament director, with media and everyone else.
"It has got to me, of course, as well. I was not aware of it until last night. Then, of course, I was not pleased to see that. My father, my whole family, and myself, have been through several wars during the 90s. As my father put in a statement, we are against the war, we never will support any violence or any war. We know how devastating that is for the family, for people in any country that is going through the war.
"The photo that he made, he was passing through. I heard what he said in the video. He said, 'Cheers'. Unfortunately some of the media has interpreted that in a really wrong way.
"There was a lot of Serbian flags around. That's what he thought. He thought he was making a photo with somebody from Serbia."
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.
A decision has not yet been made over whether Djokovic's father will attend the final.
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.
"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.
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.