Novak Djokovic's father facing Australian Open ban calls after pro-Putin video
Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan is facing calls to be banned from the rest of the Australian Open after he was caught on camera posing with Vladimir Putin supporters at Melbourne Park and appeared to say “Long live Russian citizens”.
The tournament was disrupted on Wednesday night by pro-Russian demonstrators who chanted “Russia, Serbia, Russia, Serbia” and held up a flag emblazoned with Putin’s face.
A video posted on YouTube shows Srdjan posing with the ringleader of the group on the steps of Rod Laver Arena, shortly after his son Novak had defeated Russia’s Andrey Rublev in straight sets.
This man, wearing a T-shirt decorated with the pro-war “Z” emblem, introduces the video by speaking into the camera and saying “Brother Alexander Zaldostanov, we sent you our greetings from Melbourne Australia to our brothers in Moscow”.
Alexander Zaldostanov is the president of the Night Wolves – a motorcycle gang based in Moscow who have been described as “Putin’s Angels”. As the film moves on, we see the same main speaker send greetings to “our brothers in Donbas and Luhansk”, and to the International Brigade “Pyatnashka”.
This last group is an international militia which fights on behalf of the Russians and contains a strong Serbian element.
The controversy triggered a call from the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, for Srdjan to be banned from today’s semi-final between Djokovic and America’s Tommy Paul, as well as Sunday’s final should his son progress.
Myroshnychenko urged Tennis Australia to ban his father Srdian from centre court for "such a disgrace", and also demanded an apology from nine-time Australian Open winner Djokovic.
"Is up to Tennis Australia to take action," he told the Herald Sun. "I think it would be a very good idea not to let him in.
"I don't know why he would say something like that considering what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, how many people they have killed, tortured, raped and all the summary executions that have happened against civilians.”
Mr Myroshnychenko added: "This whole Australian Open tournament since the beginning was a controversy, around the participation of the Russian players, then the flags, now we've seen this provocation.
"It was further aggravated by the comments Djokovic's dad has made. Djokovic is a superstar and he's the number one celebrity in the tennis world, so it's very disappointing to see his father supporting Russia."
On Wednesday night, Tennis Australia put out a statement that said: “Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards.
“Victoria Police intervened and are continuing to question them. The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.”
There were at least four people carrying pro-Russian regalia within Melbourne Park on Wednesday night, even though Russian flags had been banned by Tennis Australia after one was flown during a first-round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova.
The four included the main speaker Zaldostanov, another man with a Russian flag, a man holding a Night Wolves flag, and the fan inside the stadium who removed a white shirt emblazoned with Djokovic’s name to reveal a black T-shirt underneath with the “Z” emblem on it.
An unwitting Djokovic later signed this man’s white shirt as he did the rounds of the Serbian fans within the stadium at the end of his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 quarter-final victory over Rublev.
Mr Myroshnychenko condemned Wednesday night’s scenes, which saw a slow response from security guards even once they were in attendance at the demonstration. “It’s a full package,” said Mr Myroshnychenko. “Among the Serbian flags, there is a Russian flag, Putin, Z-symbol or chanting pro-Russian songs. It’s such a disgrace.”
Meanwhile the former Ukrainian player Alex Dolgopolov, who is serving with the Ukrainian army, tweeted the image of the man with the two shirts, accompanied by the message “This guy will get banned for life, at least for all Australian events, right?” Dolgopolov then posted another short video of the demonstrators and said “Seems he was not the only one. Tennis Australia, what’s going on there?”
Representatives for Novak Djokovic have been contacted for comment.