Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and “Z” banners.

A spectator wears a

A spectator wears a “Z” on a T-shirt cheering on Novak Djokovic of Serbia as he takes on Andrei Rublev of Russia in the quarter-final match of the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne – Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and “Z” banners – Fazry Ismail/ Shutterstock

Pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the Australian Open on Wednesday with a fan displaying the controversial “Z” symbol at the Rod Laver Arena and flags depicting Vladimir Putin’s face parading outside Melbourne Park.

Some fans chanted “Serbia, Russia, Serbia, Russia” on the steps of the main show court here in Melbourne, while an image of Putin’s face atop a Russian flag waved by one of the fans during celebrations following Novak Djokovic’s victory over Russian Andrei Rublev.

Earlier, while the game was still going on, a member of the Serbian support group at the stadium made a political statement through his uniform. Upon arriving wearing a white T-shirt with Djokovic’s name on it, the man removed it revealing a black T-shirt with a pro-war “Z” emblem on it.

The photos also appear to show Djokovic unknowingly signing an autograph for the man while pulling out a white jersey after his victory over Russia’s No. 1 Rublev, where he is wearing a coat to hide the “Z” symbol.

Tennis Australia security was slow to respond to the shows despite another man holding a Russian flag – something expressly prohibited by tournament organizers at the start of the tournament.

In a statement, Tennis Australia said: “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.”

Scenes will be marred by the Australian Open, which has previously dealt with violent clashes between fans from Melbourne’s large Serbian and Croatian communities but has never seen a political show of this kind before.

Djokovic always attracts large numbers of fans to his matches at this event – which he has won nine times – and many arrive carrying or carrying the Serbian flag in some form.

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

The Australian Open is nearing its end of the weekend, which may explain why Wimbledon decided to ban the Russians and Belarusians last summer.

The last four women include two Belarusians, Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka, and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, born in Moscow but playing under the Kazakh flag.

The last four are Russian Karen Khachanov, who has already been involved in a political brawl during this tournament after expressing support for a small Armenian community protesting against its independence from Azerbaijan.

Billie Jean King calls for Wimbledon ban in Russia and Belarus to be lifted

Molly McElwee

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

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

This caused a huge row in the sport, with the WTA and ATP stripping Wimbledon of its ranking points and fines.

Wimbledon is expected to officially announce a turnaround in its policies in the next few weeks, and King – one of the founders of the women’s tour – has insisted they do so.

“Just keep it the same as the others,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday. “Life is too short. Just let them play and earn money. It’s definitely ranking points. They must have it.

“Rybakina, they seeded her 25th, but since she won Wimbledon, she is not [seeded higher]. We are a platform to discuss this topic. I think it’s important. The WTA was established for this so we would all have one vote to help protect players.

At the Australian Open, Azarenka and Sabalenka could lead to a Belarus clash on Saturday if they win their semi-finals. The irony is that neither of them were allowed to compete at Wimbledon last season because Belarusian athletes were barred because of their country’s alliance with Putin.

Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka scores a point against Croatia's Donna Vekic during the women's singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne - Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and

Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka scores a point against Croatia’s Donna Vekic during the women’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne – Pro-Russian protesters storm the Australian Open with Putin and “Z” banners – Manan Vatsyana/Getty Photos

“I really want this to happen,” Sabalenka said of a possible clash with her compatriot in the final. “I know Vika will do everything in her power to make that happen. I will do everything to make that happen. It would be history. It’s just going to be unbelievable and hard to understand that this is really happening.”

Asked about how the ban and talk of war and politics affected her last year, Sabalenka said: “Well, I’d say it obviously affected me a lot. It was hard and still is hard. But I just understand that it’s none of my business. mistake. For example, I have no control. If I could do something, of course I would, but I can’t do anything. I just have this understanding that really helps me stay strong.

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

Although she has consistently ranked in the top 10 for the last three seasons and has reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open in that time, her performance over the past two weeks is a marked improvement over her last performance in Melbourne. Last year she had a serious case of biting the serve, she recorded 428 double faults during the season – more than 100 more than the second-placed player in this category.

She will have to keep her temper on Thursday when she faces Poland’s Magda Linette for a shot at her first Grand Slam final. This will be her fourth attempt after semi-final defeats at Wimbledon and the US Open. “All these ups and downs didn’t help me in the semis before,” she said. “So it’s going to be a real test for me if I can keep my composure like I’ve kept my composure in the last matches at key moments.”

After working with an expert in biomechanics, she seems to have solved the problem, but will need to keep her temper in Thursday’s semi-final when she faces Poland’s Magda Linette for a place in her first major final.

Former two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka will face Rybakina.

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