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

Spectators cheering for Serbian Novak Djokovic's quarterfinal match against Russia's Andrey Rublev at the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne wears a 'Z' on his shirt - Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and 'Z' banners - Fazry Ismail /Shutterstock

Spectators cheering for Serbian Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal match against Russia’s Andrey Rublev at the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne wears a ‘Z’ on his shirt – Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and ‘Z’ banners – Fazry Ismail /Shutterstock

Pro-Russian demonstrators targeted the Australian Open on Wednesday with a fan displaying the controversial ‘Z’ symbol at the Rod Laver Arena and flags with Vladimir Putin’s face in front of Melbourne Park.

After Novak Djokovic’s victory, a fan chanted “Serbia, Russia, Serbia, Russia” on the steps of the main demonstration court in Melbourne, while a fan waved a picture of Putin’s face above the Russian flag. Via Andrey Rublev from Russia.

Earlier, while the match was going on, a member of the Serbian supporters group inside the stadium made a political statement dressed in a uniform. The man, who arrived in a white T-shirt with Djokovic’s name on it, took it off, revealing a black T-shirt with the pro-war “Z” emblem.

Pictures also show Djokovic unwittingly signing an autograph to the man after his victory over Russian No. 1 Rublev while handing the white shirt over, then donning a jacket to hide the ‘Z’ symbol.

Tennis Australia’s security reacted slowly to the demonstrations, despite another man hoisting the Russian flag, which had been expressly prohibited by tournament officials earlier in the tournament.

“Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium threatened security guards by displaying inappropriate flags and symbols,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.

“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.”

The scenes will tarnish the Australian Open, which has previously seen violent clashes between fans from the large Serbian and Croatian communities in Melbourne, but has never seen this kind of political exposure before.

Djokovic always draws a large number of fans to his matches at this event, which he has won nine times, and many of them somehow carry or wear the Serbian flag.

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

The Australian Open is heading towards a closing weekend that could underline why Wimbledon chose to ban Russians and Belarusians last summer.

The final four women include two Belarusians, Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka, as well as Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but plays under the Kazakh flag.

Among the last four is Russian Karen Khachanov, who got into a political debate during this tournament after expressing her support for a small Armenian community protesting its independence from Azerbaijan.

Billie Jean King calls for an end to Wimbledon ban on Russia and Belarus

By Molly McElwee

The incident comes after Billie Jean King urged Wimbledon to lift its ban on Russian and Belarusian players at the Championships this July.

Last year, Wimbledon organizers went against tennis when they decided to remove players from Russia and Belarus in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

It sparked a huge controversy in the sport, with WTA and ATP withdrawing qualifying points from Wimbledon and fined as penalties.

Wimbledon is expected to officially announce a U-turn in their policy over the next few weeks, and King, one of the co-founders of the women’s tour, has urged them to do so.

“Just keep it like the others,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday. “Life is too short. Just let them play and get paid. That’s definitely ranking points. They need to have that.

“Rybakina took 25th place, but not because she won Wimbledon. [seeded higher]. We are a platform for discussions on this issue. I think this is important. That’s why WTA was launched so we all have one voice to help protect players.”

At the Australian Open, Azarenka and Sabalenka could face all of Belarus on Saturday if they win their respective semi-finals. The irony is that Belarusian athletes were not allowed to compete at Wimbledon last season, as their country was banned due to its alliance with Putin.

Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka celebrates a point against Croatia's Donna Vekic in the women's singles quarterfinals on the tenth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka celebrates a point against Croatia’s Donna Vekic in the women’s singles quarterfinals on the tenth day of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Sabalenka, probably about her encounter with her compatriot in the final, said, “I really want this to happen. I know that Vika will do everything in her power to make it happen. I will do everything in my power to make it happen. It would be history. It will be incredible and difficult to understand that it really happened.”

When asked how his ban on war and politics and his speech last year affected him, Sabalenka said, “Of course I can say it affected me a lot. It was and still is difficult. But I understand that this is not my style. It’s like a mistake. I have zero control. Of course I would have done something, but nothing. I can’t do anything. Just that understanding really helps me stay strong.”

Sabalenka is in 5th place and in good form, the highest seed remaining in the draw. She won all 18 sets she played this year and beat Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2 on Wednesday.

Despite consistently placing in the top 10 over the past three seasons and reaching the Wimbledon and US Open semi-finals during that time, his performance over the past two weeks is a marked improvement since he last stepped into Melbourne. He suffered a serious serving error last year and recorded 428 doubles over the season – more than 100 times the second-placed player in that category.

She will have to control her nerves when she faces Polish Magda Linette in her first Grand Slam final on Thursday. It will be his fourth attempt after previous semi-final losses at Wimbledon and the US Open. “All these ups and downs have never helped me in the semifinals before,” she said. “So if I can keep myself calm like I’ve kept myself calm at key moments in previous games, that’s really going to be a test for me.”

After working with a biomechanics expert, she seems to have taken up the matter, but she’ll need to get on her nerves in the semifinals against Poland’s Magda Linette to make it to her first grand final on Thursday.

Two-time former Australian Open champion Azarenka will face Rybakina.

Leave a Comment