Novak Djokovic’s father Srdjan was seen on camera with Vladimir Putin’s supporters at the Australian Open.
The tournament was interrupted Wednesday night by pro-Russian demonstrators who chanted “Russia, Serbia, Russia, Serbia” and held up a flag with Putin’s face on it.
A video posted on YouTube shows Srdjan with the ringleader of the group on the steps of the Rod Laver Arena, shortly after his son Novak defeated Russian Andrei Rublev in straight sets.
The other man, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the pro-war “Z” emblem, introduces the video, saying to the camera: “Brother Alexander Zalostanov, we sent you greetings from Melbourne, Australia to our brothers in Moscow.”
Srdjan then says what appears to be “živjeli Russiyani” – a Serbo-Croatian phrase that translates to “Long live the Russians”. The first speaker repeats the phrase while Srdjan moves on, presumably to join his son and the rest of Djokovic’s team in the playing area below the stadium.
Alexander Zalostanov is the president of the Night Wolves, a Moscow biker gang dubbed “Putin’s angels”. In the course of the film, we see the same keynote speaker send his greetings to “our brothers in Donbass and Luhansk” and the International Brigade “Piatnashka”.
The latter group is an international militia that fights on behalf of the Russians and includes a strong Serbian element.
On Wednesday evening Tennis Australia released a statement saying: “Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards.
“The Victoria Police have intervened and are still questioning them. Everyone’s comfort and safety is our priority and we are working closely with security and authorities.”
There were at least four people carrying pro-Russian regalia in Melbourne Park on Wednesday night, despite Russian flags being banned by Tennis Australia after one was flown during the first round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova.
The four included the keynote speaker mentioned above, another man with a Russian flag, a man holding a Night Wolves flag, and a stadium supporter who removed his white Djokovic shirt to reveal a black T-shirt with the Z emblem on it.
Unaware of this, Djokovic later signed the man’s white shirt as he walked around Serbian fans in the stadium towards the end of his 6–1, 6–2, 6–4 victory over Rublev.
A video of Djokovic’s father was posted on the YouTube channel of Simeon Boykov, a pro-Russian activist wanted by Australian police after allegedly assaulting a 76-year-old man at a pro-Ukraine rally in Sydney.
The video also shows Tennis Australia’s security guards finally making it to the stairs where demonstrators are holding their impromptu rally. Guards don’t intervene when maybe 10 fans are chanting “We love Putin.”
In a video released on Tuesday, Boikov – who runs The Aussie Cossack – warned that there would be pro-Russian activity at the Australian Open.
“Djokovic plays Andrei Rublev,” said Boikov. “I hereby appeal or order everyone to come down. I confirm we have some surprises.
“Tennis Australia get ready… for the fans, for the people who love tennis, if you know what I mean. I have to put it this way or I’ll be caught for instigation. We have a lot of serious fans in Melbourne heading downhill.
“It’s about honor and dignity now. It is an attack on honor and dignity. It 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 Russian Empire has hung its flag. Guess what, Tennis Australia? Good luck when the empire strikes back.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, condemned Wednesday’s scenes. “It’s a full package,” said Myroshnychenko. “Among the Serbian flags is the Russian flag, Putin, the Z symbol, or singing pro-Russian songs. It’s such a disgrace.”
Meanwhile, former Ukrainian player Alex Dolgopolov, who serves in the Ukrainian Army, tweeted a photo of a man in two shirts, accompanied by the message “This guy will be banned for life, at least for all Australian events, right?” Dolgopolov then posted another short video of the demonstrators and said: “Looks like he wasn’t the only one. Tennis Australia, what’s going on there?”
Representatives for Novak Djokovic have been contacted for comment.