Novak Djokovic's father justifies appearance with pro-Putin mob
Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan has said that he wishes “only for peace” after his family “lived through the horror of war” during his son’s childhood.
In the wake of his brief association with pro-Russian demonstrators, Srdjan also said that he will not be attending the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday in order to avoid “disruption”.
Srdjan became the focus of controversy on Wednesday when he posed for photos outside Rod Laver Arena alongside a man wearing the “Z” emblem, shortly after his son had defeated Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
A video published on a pro-Putin YouTube channel suggested that Srdjan had also made a comment supporting the Russian people.
Srdjan did not apologise for stopping to speak to the instigators of the mini-rally on the steps of Rod Laver Arena, which lasted several minutes before police and security intervened. But he did say that he had not meant to become involved in this unexpected drama.
In a statement released on Friday afternoon in Melbourne, Srdjan said “I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption.
“I was outside with Novak’s fans as I have done after all of my son’s matches to celebrate his wins and take pictures with them. I had no intention of being caught up in this. My family has lived through the horror of war, and we wish only for peace. 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. I wish for a great match and I will be cheering for my son, as always.”
After beating unseeded American Tommy Paul to continue his pursuit of a tenth Australian Open, Djokovic opened up on his father's actions.
"Well, I've already explained myself and he explained himself what happened," Djokovic said. "There was no intention. Now you're basically asking me a question like he did it intentionally, like he's not being careful about what he's doing. It can happen. It can happen to many people what happened to him.
"He was passing through, made a photo, it has escalated. He was misused in this situation by this group of people. That's what happened.
"I can't be angry with him or upset because I can say it was not his fault. He went out to celebrate with my fans, and that's it. That's all that happened.
"After that, of course he felt bad because of me and he knew how that's going to reflect on me, the whole media pressure and everything that has happened in the last 24 hours, 48 hours. But it is what it is. You accept it and you move on."
Djokovic grew up amid the wars in the Balkans in the late Nineties, often hiding in bomb shelters during the 78 days that Nato spent bombing Belgrade in retaliation for ethnic-cleansing atrocities. His autobiography Serve To Win features a scene in which he sees a F-117 fighter jet firing missiles at a hospital.
The video of Srdjan and the demonstrators became a talking point at the Australian Open on Thursday, although Belarusia’s former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka batted away questions on the subject by saying “These incidents in my opinion have nothing to do with players.”
Had Srdjan not voluntarily withdrawn himself from the event, there would have been more calls for him to be banned from Melbourne Park. On Thursday, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia – Vasyl Myroshnychenko – had told the Herald Sun that tournament organisers should intervene.
"Is up to Tennis Australia to take action," said Myroshnychenko. "I think it would be a very good idea not to let him in. This whole Australian Open tournament since the beginning was a controversy, around the participation of the Russian players, then the flags, now we've seen this provocation.”
Russian and Belarusian players are allowed to compete at this event, by contrast with the situation at Wimbledon last summer. Collectively, they have taken their opportunity well. Saturday’s women’s singles final will pit Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka against Elena Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but plays under the Kazakh flag.
Within 40 minutes of Srdjan’s statement, Tennis Australia had released their own statement confirming it, and adding that “We will continue to strive for the safety of fans at the event and reiterate our position banning flags from Belarus and Russia. Tennis Australia stands with the call for peace and an end to war and violent conflict in Ukraine.”