Novak Djokovic hit out Friday at what he said was a “misinterpretation” of images showing his father posing at the Australian Open with a Russian flag that had Vladimir Putin’s face on it.
The Serbian tennis star admitted that the controversy swirling around his father Srdjan had “got to me”, but maintained no harm was meant.
Djokovic beat Tommy Paul to seal a place in Sunday’s final and said he hoped his father would be there after skipping Friday’s semi-final.
The 35-year-old Djokovic stressed that his father had “no intention whatsoever to support any war initiatives”.
“I saw as everyone else saw what happened and it was unfortunate the misinterpretation of what happened has escalated to such a high level,” Djokovic said after his semi-final.
“It has got to me of course. I was not aware of it until last night. And then of course I was not pleased to see that.
“My father, my whole family, have been through several wars. As my father put in the statement, we are against the war. We will never support any violence or war,” he added.
He said his father had been greeting fans outside Rod Laver Arena after every match he played to thank them for their support.
Djokovic senior had earlier said that he would not attend the semi-final, insisting in a statement that he “wishes only for peace”.
“I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption,” Srdjan Djokovic said, after he faced calls to be banned from the tournament.
Demand for apology
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 President 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 had been outside on Wednesday 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”.
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 that 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.
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.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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