SYDNEY (Reuters) -Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan said on Friday he would not attend his son’s Australian Open semi-final and would instead “watch from home”, after a video emerged showing him posing at Melbourne Park with fans holding Russian flags.
The video caused controversy in Australia, leading to the country’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Friday reiterating Australian support for Ukraine and criticising supporters of Russia’s invasion.
“I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption,” Srdjan Djokovic said in an emailed statement.
“So there is no disruption to tonight’s semi-final for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home.”
Novak Djokovic declined to comment.
“I will make this point, that Australia stands with the people of Ukraine,” Albanese told a news conference after a reporter asked if Srdjan Djokovic should be deported after he was seen posing for pictures with fans holding Russian flags.
“That is Australia’s position and Australia is unequivocal in our support for the rule of international law.
“We do not want to see any support given to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that is having a devastating impact on the people of Ukraine.”
Albanese did not respond directly to the question about whether Srdjan Djokovic should be deported.
Police questioned four fans seen with “inappropriate flags and symbols” after a quarter-final match on Wednesday between Russia’s Andrey Rublev and favourite Djokovic, organisers Tennis Australia said.
The Serbian player, who was at the centre of a storm of controversy over his COVID-19 vaccination status at last year’s Australian Open, has not commented on the incident and his spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A video emerged on social media showed a fan on the steps of Rod Laver Arena holding up a Russian flag with the image of President Vladimir Putin on it.
Photos also showed one fan with a large “Z” on his shirt. Russian forces have used the letter as an identifying symbol on their vehicles in Ukraine following their invasion. Some supporters of the invasion have also used the sign.
Srdjan Djokovic was seen in some posts posing with the Russian supporters.
Australian Open organisers on Thursday issued a reminder to players and their entourages about their policy on flags after the video of Djokovic’s father emerged.
On Friday, Tennis Australia said they “continue to strive for the safety of fans at the event and reiterate our position banning flags from Belarus and Russia”.
Russian and Belarusian athletes are able to compete as individual athletes without national affiliation at the Australian Open, though their flags are banned from the tournament grounds after a complaint by Ukraine’s ambassador last week.
Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament last year for not being vaccinated against COVID-19 and received a three-year Australian travel ban.
That ban was rescinded in November, allowing him to compete this year.
Djokovic will continue his bid for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title and 22nd Grand Slam crown to match Rafa Nadal when he takes on unseeded American Tommy Paul in their semi-final later on Friday.