Novak Djokovic on Friday lashed out at what he said was a “misinterpretation” of footage showing his father posing at the Australian Open with a Russian flag bearing Vladimir Putin’s face.
The Serbian tennis star admitted that the controversy surrounding his father Srdjan “got me” but insisted no harm was intended.
Djokovic defeated Tommy Paul to secure a spot in Sunday’s final and said he hoped his father would be there after skipping Friday’s semi-final.
Djokovic, 35, stressed that his father “had no intention whatsoever to support war initiatives”.
“I saw what happened as everyone saw and it was a pity that the misinterpretation of what happened has escalated to such a high level,” Djokovic said after his semifinal.
“Of course it affected me. I was only aware of it last night. And then of course I was not happy to see it.
“My father, my whole family, has been through several wars. As my father said in the statement, we are against the war. We will never support violence or war,” he added.
He said his father greeted fans outside Rod Laver Arena after every game he played to thank them for their support.
Djokovic senior had previously said he would not attend the semi-final, insisting in a statement that he “only wishes for peace”.
“I’m only here to support my son. I didn’t intend to cause such headlines or disruptions,” said Srdjan Djokovic, after facing calls to be banned from the tournament.
Ask for an apology
A video posted to a pro-Russian Australian YouTube account on Thursday shows Djokovic’s father posing with a man holding a Russian flag with President Putin’s face on it.
The video’s caption read: “Novak Djokovic’s father makes a bold political statement.”
Another man was photographed wearing a T-shirt with the Russian pro-war symbol “Z” at the stadium during Djokovic’s match by AFP.
Srdjan Djokovic said he had been outside with his son’s fans on Wednesday “as I have done after all my son’s games 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 for Djokovic to personally apologize and clarify his position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“He must apologize for what happened and condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he demanded.
Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, who lost in the women’s doubles semifinal, said the behavior was hurtful, but was hesitant to comment on whether Djokovic’s father should be suspended.
“Whatever I say, I will be hated for 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 that overshadowed the start of the tournament.
Myroshnychenko said the player’s reaction to the latest controversy would again divert attention from what was happening on the pitch.
“The last Open was all about Djokovic,” he said. “Now it’s all about Russian flags and also about Djokovic.”
Former Ukrainian player Alex Dolgopolov said on Twitter that public support for what he called a “genocidal regime” was “absolutely disgusting”.
Myroshnychenko was instrumental in convincing the organizers of the Australian Open to ban Russian and Belarusian flags at this year’s Grand Slam.
The Russian embassy in Australia had hit back at the ban, calling it “another example of the unacceptable politicization of sport”.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he “does not want support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.
Tournament organizer Tennis Australia said on Thursday it would continue to work with security to enforce entry rules.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian and Belarusian players have normally competed as independents under a neutral white flag, as is the case at the Australian Open.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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