Fans waving Russian flags were detained by police after shocking scenes at the Australian Open. Tournament organisers moved to ban all Russian and Belarusian flags at Melbourne Park after a Russian flag was on display during a match involving a Ukrainian player.
But footage taken after Novak Djokovic’s semi-final win tonight showed Serbian and Russian fans celebrating together. A Tennis Australia statement said: “Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards. Victoria Police intervened and are continuing to question them. The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.”
The incidents followed Billie Jean King saying earlier in the day that the ban on Russian and Belarusian players should be lifted at Wimbledon. Two Belarusian players – Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka – could meet in Saturday’s Australian Open final after winning through to the last four.
But both were banned from SW19 last year and the All England Club are now considering whether to reimpose the suspensions for this year’s event. Unlike the three other Grand Slams and the WTA and ATP Tours, players from both nations were not allowed to play Wimbledon because of the invasion of Ukraine.
Asked about the bans, King said: “Just keep it the same way as the other ones are. Life is too short. Just have them play and get their money. I think it’s important. The WTA was started for that, so we’d all have one voice, too, to help protect players.” King, 79, was speaking at Melbourne Park with other members of the Original Nine – the women players who founded the WTA in 1970.
No.5 seed Sabalenka is still the highest ranked player left in the women’s draw after beating Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2 and she will now face world No.45 Magda Linette. The Pole, who had never got beyond the third round in her previous 29 Grand Slam appearances, sent home former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova 6-3 7-5.
Azarenka will play Moscow-born Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the other semi. Asked about the possibility of an all-Belarusian final, Sabalenka said: “I really want it to happen. I know that Vika will do everything she can to make it happen. I will do everything I can to make it happen. It would be history.”
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While Russians and Belarusians aren’t banned from the Australian Open, Tennis Australia moved to ban the two nation’s flags earlier in the tournament when the Ukrainian ambassador called for action after a spectator brought a clearly-visible Russian flag to a match between Ukraine‘s Kateryna Baindl and Russia‘s Kamilla Rakhimova.
“I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game of the Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl at the Australian Open today. I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its “neutral flag” policy,” Vasyl Myroshnychenk tweeted at the time.
Restrictions were then tightened to ban all Russian and Belarusian flags, with signs at the entry points to Melbourne Park now clearly stating the rule. “Our initial policy was that fans could bring them in but could not use them to cause disruption. Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside. The ban will be effective immediately. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure that this is the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis,” Tennis Australia said after the incident during Baildl’s victory.