MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic’s father stayed away from the 21-time Grand Slam champion’s semifinal victory on Friday after getting embroiled in a flap involving spectators who brought banned Russian flags to Melbourne Park.
Srdjan Djokovic released a statement saying he would not be at Rod Laver Arena, “so there is no disruption.”
Novak Djokovic wound up beating unseeded American Tommy Paul 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to earn a berth in the men’s singles final.
Afterward, the younger Djokovic defended his father, saying there was “absolutely no intention whatsoever to support any kind of war initiatives or anything like that” and adding that he was sorry the whole episode “escalated so much.”
He also said he wasn’t sure yet whether his father would attend Sunday’s final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“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 said.
“We will continue to strive for the safety of fans at the event and reiterate our position banning flags from Belarus and Russia,” the group added. “Tennis Australia stands with the call for peace and an end to war and violent conflict in Ukraine.”
After Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal victory over Russian player Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, Srdjan Djokovic was filmed standing with a group of people waving Russian flags — at least one showing an image of Vladimir Putin — outside the main stadium.
Four people were kicked out of the tournament because of the flags and for threatening security guards that night, police and Tennis Australia said.
On Jan. 17, the second day of the Australian Open, flags from Russia and Belarus were banned from Melbourne Park after more than one was brought into the stands by spectators the day before.
Normally, flags can be displayed during matches at Melbourne Park. But Tennis Australia reversed that policy for the two countries involved in the invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a year ago, saying the flags were causing disruption.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus were barred last year from competing in various sports events, including men’s World Cup qualifying in soccer and Wimbledon, the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup in tennis, because of the war in Ukraine. Russia invaded, with help from Belarus, in February.
Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to play at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open, but as “neutral” athletes, so their nationalities are not acknowledged on any official schedules or results for the event and their countries’ flags are not displayed on TV graphics.
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