Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, posed with Vladimir Putin fans at the Australian Open.
The tournament was interrupted Wednesday night by pro-Russian demonstrators chanting “Russia, Serbia, Russia, Serbia” and raising a flag embroidered with Putin’s face.
In a video posted to YouTube, Srdjan is seen on the steps of the Rod Laver Arena with the band’s ringleader, shortly after his son Novak defeated Russian Andrey Rublev in straight sets.
This second man, dressed in a T-shirt emblazoned with the pro-war “Z” emblem, speaks to the camera and introduces the video by saying, “Brother Alexander Zalostanov, we send you greetings from Melbourne Australia to our brothers in Moscow.”
Srdjan then says something that sounds like “Zivjeli Russiyani” – a Serbo-Croatian phrase meaning “Long live the Russians”. As the first speaker repeats the sentence, Srdjan continues on his way to join his son and the rest of the Djokovic team, presumably in the players’ field below the stadium.
Alexander Zalostanov is the head of the Night Wolves, a Moscow-based motorcycle gang described as “Putin’s Angels”. As the film progresses, we see the same keynote speaker conveying his greetings to “our brothers in Donbas and Luhansk” and the International Brigade “Pyatnashka”.
This last group is an international militia that fights on behalf of the Russians and includes a strong Serbian element.
On Wednesday night, Tennis Australia issued a statement saying: “Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium displayed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards.
“The Victoria Police has intervened and continues to question them. Everyone’s comfort and safety is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.”
Although Russian flags were banned by Tennis Australia after Russian flags were flown in the first-round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova, at least four people in pro-Russian clothing were present in Melbourne Park on Wednesday night.
Among the four were the aforementioned keynote speaker, another man carrying the Russian flag, a man holding the Night Wolves flag, and a fan inside the stadium who took off a white shirt with Djokovic’s name, revealing a black T-shirt with “” underneath. It has the Z” emblem on it.
At the end of his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Rublev, an unwitting Djokovic then signed this man’s white shirt and Serbian fans swept through the stadium.
A video of Djokovic’s father was posted on the YouTube channel of pro-Russian activist Simeon Boikov, wanted by Australian police for allegedly assaulting a 76-year-old man at a rally for Ukraine in Sydney.
The video also shows that Tennis Australia’s security guards finally arrive on the steps where the demonstrators hold their impromptu rally. Maybe 10 fans shout “We love Putin” while the guards don’t interfere.
In a video released Tuesday, Boikov, nicknamed the “Australian Cossack”, warned that there will be pro-Russian activities at the Australian Open.
“Djokovic plays Andrey Rublev,” said Boikov. “I’m calling or instructing everyone here to get down there. I can confirm we have some surprises.
“Tennis Australia brace yourself… for the fans, for the people who love tennis, if you know what I mean. I have to say it like that or they’ll catch me for provocation. We have a lot of serious fans in Melbourne who are in decline.
“This is now about honor and dignity. This is an attack on honor and dignity. This has nothing to do with war. This is an attack on freedom in Australia. This is discrimination. This is racism. Banning people’s flags is illegal.
“The flag of the Russian empire was banned. Guess what, Tennis Australia? Good luck when the Empire retaliates.”
Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, condemned Wednesday night’s scenes. “It’s a full package,” Myroshnychenko said. “Serbian flags include the Russian flag, Putin, the Z symbol or singing pro-Russian songs. This is a huge disgrace.”
Meanwhile, ex-Ukrainian actor Alex Dolgopolov, who served in the Ukrainian army, tweeted a photo of the men in two jerseys and said, “This man will be banned for life, at least for all Australian events, right?” Dolgopolov later posted another short video of the demonstrators, saying, “Looks like he wasn’t the only one. Tennis Australia, what’s going on there?”
Novak Djokovic’s representatives have been contacted for comment.