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Pro-Russia protesters storm Australian Open with Putin and ‘Z’ banners

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A spectator with a “Z” on a jersey cheers for Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Russia’s Andrey Rublev in their quarterfinal match at the 2023 Australian Open in Melbourne. ‘Z’ banners – Fazri Ismail /Shutterstock

Pro-Russian demonstrators set their sights on the Australian Open on Wednesday, with a fan wearing the controversial “Z” symbol at Rod Laver Arena and flags featuring Vladimir Putin’s face parading outside Melbourne Park.

A section of fans chanted “Serbia, Russia, Serbia, Russia” on the steps of the main exhibition court here in Melbourne, while one fan hung an image of Putin’s face over the Russian flag during Novak Djokovic’s victory celebrations. victory over Russian Andrey Rublev.

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Earlier, when the match was still in progress, a member of the Serbian cheerleading squad at the stadium made a political statement through his clothing. Arriving in a white T-shirt bearing Djokovic’s name, the man took it off to reveal a black T-shirt with the pro-war “Z” emblem.

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The photos also show Djokovic unwittingly signing an autograph for a man as he holds out a white jersey after defeating Russian No. 1 Rublev, where he then wears a coat to hide the “Z” symbol.

Tennis Australia security was slow to respond to screenings, although there was one other man holding the Russian flag, which had been expressly prohibited by tournament officials earlier in the tournament.

Tennis Australia said in a statement: “Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium displayed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards.

“Victoria police have intervened and continue to question them. The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority, and we work closely with security agencies and authorities.”

These scenes will tarnish the Australian Open, which has previously dealt with violent clashes between fans from the large Serbian and Croatian communities in Melbourne but has not seen this kind of political display before.

Djokovic always draws large crowds to his matches in this tournament, which he has won nine times, and many come with the Serbian flag in one form or another.

In this case, a small minority took the opportunity to advance the Russian cause. Traditionally, ties between Serbia and Russia have been strong due to their shared Slavic heritage and Eastern Orthodox religion.

Australian Open heading into final weekend that could show why Last summer, Wimbledon decided to disqualify Russians and Belarusians.

The last four women included two Belarusians Victoria Azarenka and Arina Sobolenko, as well as Wimbledon champion Yelena Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but plays under the Kazakh flag.

The final four include Russian Karen Khachanov, who was already embroiled in a political scandal during the tournament after expressing his support for the small Armenian community protesting its independence from Azerbaijan.

Billie Jean King Calls for Wimbledon Ban to be Lifted in Russia and Belarus

Molly McElvey

The incident occurred after Billie Jean King called on Wimbledon to lift the ban on the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the championship in July this year.

Last year, Wimbledon organizers became an exception in tennis when they decided to exclude players from Russia and Belarus in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

This caused a huge uproar in the sport and the WTA and ATP withdrew ranking points from Wimbledon and also imposed fines as punishment.

Wimbledon is expected to formally announce its policy review in the next few weeks, and King, one of the founders of the Women’s Tour, has urged them to do so.

“Just leave him the same as the others,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday. “Life is too short. Just let them play and get their money. Of course, these are rating points. They must receive them.

“Rybakina is seeded 25th, but since she won Wimbledon, she is not [seeded higher]. We are a forum for discussing this. I think it’s important. That’s what the WTA was created for, so that we all have one voice to help protect the players.”

At the Australian Open, Azarenka and Sabalenka can arrange an all-Belarusian confrontation on Saturday if they win their semi-finals. The irony is that none of them were allowed to compete at Wimbledon last season due to Belarusian athletes being banned due to their country’s alliance with Putin.

Belarus' Arina Sabolenko celebrates her victory over Croatia's Donna Vekic in the women's singles quarterfinal match on day ten of the Australian Open in Melbourne
Belarus’ Arina Sabolenko celebrates her victory over Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the women’s singles quarter-final match on Day 10 of the Australian Open in Melbourne

“I really want this to happen,” Sobolenko said of a possible meeting with her compatriot in the final. – I know that Vika will do everything possible to make this happen. I will do everything in my power to make this happen. That would be history. It will be just incredible and hard to realize that this is really happening.

Asked how the ban and talking about war and politics affected her last year, Sabalenka said: “Well, I would say that, of course, it affected me a lot. Like, I have zero control. If I could do something, of course I would, but I can’t do anything. I just have this understanding that really helps me stay strong.”

Sobolenko takes first place in the draw, takes 5th place and is in great shape. She has won all 18 sets she has played this year and on Wednesday beat Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2.

Although she has consistently ranked in the top 10 for the past three seasons and has reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open in that time, her performance over the past two weeks has markedly improved from when she last competed in Melbourne. She was hit hard by pitch screaming last year, recording 428 double faults for the season – more than 100 more than the second-placed player in that category.

After working with a biomechanics expert, she seems to have solved the problem, but she will need to keep her nerves under control in Thursday’s semi-final when she faces Poland’s Magda Lynette for a place in her first major final.

Former two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka will face Rybakina.


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