MELBOURNE: Tennis ace Novak Djokovic‘s father said he will stay away from his son’s Australian Open semi-final Friday, insisting he “wishes only for peace” after being filmed with fans holding Russian flags.
“I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption,” Srdjan Djokovic said in a statement after the images led to calls for him to be banned from the tournament.
“My family has lived through the horror of war and we wish only for peace,” he said.
Srdjan Djokovic made no mention of whether he would attend the Grand Slam final on Sunday if his son won Friday’s match.
A video posted to a pro-Russian Australian YouTube account on Thursday showed Djokovic’s father posing with a man holding a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it.
The video was captioned: “Novak Djokovic’s father makes bold political statement.”
Another man was photographed by AFP inside the stadium during Djokovic’s match with a T-shirt bearing the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Srdjan Djokovic said he was outside with his son’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.”
The tennis great’s father said he had decided to watch on television to avoid “disruption” for his son or his semi-finals opponent, American Tommy Paul.
“I wish for a great match and I will be cheering for my son, as always,” he said.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, had called for Srdjan Djokovic to be stripped of his accreditation.
In an interview with AFP, Myroshnychenko also called on Djokovic to personally apologise and to clarify his stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“He should apologise for what has happened, and condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he demanded.
Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk, who lost in the women’s doubles semi-final, said the behaviour was hurtful but was reluctant to comment on whether Djokovic’s father should be banned.
“No matter what I say, I will be hated until the rest of my life, especially by very aggressive Novak fans,” she told reporters.
Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia last year for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — the controversy overshadowing the start of the tournament.
Myroshnychenko said the player’s response to the latest controversy would again draw attention away from what was happening on the court.
“The last Open was all about Djokovic,” he said. “Now it’s all about Russian flags and Djokovic as well.”
Ukrainian former player Alex Dolgopolov said on Twitter open support for what he called a “genocidal regime” was “absolutely disgusting”.
Myroshnychenko was instrumental in persuading Australian Open organisers to ban Russian and Belarusian flags from this year’s Grand Slam.
Russia’s embassy in Australia had hit back at the ban, calling it “another example of unacceptable politicisation of sports”.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he didn’t “want to see any support given to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
Tournament organiser Tennis Australia said Thursday it would continue to work with security to enforce entry rules.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian and Belarusian players have normally competed under a neutral white flag as independents, as is the case at the Australian Open.