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Djokovic defends “misused“ father over Russia flag controversy

2023-01-27T04:42:05Z

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Novak Djokovic defended his father after a video emerged showing him posing at the Australian Open with some fans holding Russian flags, saying he was “misused” by the individuals and that his family was against war.

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FILE PHOTO: Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan and brother Djordje attend a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Zorana Jevtic

Djokovic’s father Srdjan skipped his son’s semi-final win over Tommy Paul on Friday, choosing to “watch from home” instead after a video emerged on social media following the Serbian’s quarter-final win over Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.

The video caused controversy and led to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reiterating support for Ukraine and criticising supporters of Russia’s invasion.

“He (Srdjan) was passing through, made a photo, it has escalated. He was misused in this situation by this group of people,” Djokovic told reporters.

“I can’t be angry with him or upset because I can say it was not his fault. He went out to celebrate with my fans.

“After that, he felt bad and he knew how that’s going to reflect on me, the whole media pressure and everything that has happened in the last 24-48 hours.”

Djokovic said it was unfortunate the issue had escalated.

“My father, my whole family and myself have been through several wars during the 90s,” Djokovic said.

“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.

“My father was passing through. There was a lot of Serbian flags around. That’s what he thought. He thought he was taking a photo with somebody from Serbia. That’s it. He moved on.”

Srdjan said earlier in an emailed statement that he was only in Melbourne to support his son.

“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,” Srdjan said.

Djokovic faces Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final seeking a record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park and 22nd Grand Slam to equal Rafa Nadal.

Tennis Australia declined to comment on whether Srdjan would be welcomed back for the final, but Djokovic hoped he would be in his box.

“It wasn’t pleasant not to have him,” Djokovic said. “I hope to have him.”

Earlier, asked by a reporter if Srdjan should be deported for posing with the fans, Albanese told a news conference that Australia “stands with the people of Ukraine.”

“That is Australia’s position and Australia is unequivocal in our support for the rule of international law,” he said.

“We do not want to see any support given to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that is having a devastating impact on the people of Ukraine.”

Police had questioned four fans seen with “inappropriate flags and symbols” after Djokovic’s match with Rublev.

Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete as individual athletes without national affiliation at the Australian Open, though their flags are banned from the tournament following a complaint by Ukraine’s ambassador last week.

Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk said she was pained by the Russian flags, expressing surprise at the lapse in security that allowed fans to display them.

A video on social media showed a fan on the steps of Rod Laver Arena holding up a Russian flag with the picture of President Vladimir Putin on it.

Photos also showed one fan with a “Z” on his shirt. Russian forces have used the letter as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine following their invasion.

Some supporters of the invasion have also used the sign.

The fan was spotted again on Friday without the “Z” shirt and a Tennis Australia spokesperson said he was allowed to return after cooperating with the authorities.

Djokovic, who was deported ahead of the 2022 tournament over his COVID-19 vaccination status, said the latest controversy was not pleasant after what he dealt with last year.

“It’s not something that I want or need. I hope that people will let it be, and we can focus on tennis,” he said.

“It’s not an ideal situation or circumstances to be in when you have to deal with all these other outside factors that are not really necessary during such an important event.

“But it’s been part of my life. Unfortunately the last few years more so. I try to evolve from it. I try to become more resilient, more stronger.”