The Ukrainian ambassador to Australia lodged a stern complaint on Friday against Srdjan Djokovic, father of Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic, stating it would be “a very good idea” for the Australian Open to ban him from attending the tournament.
Srdjan, a celebrity himself in Serbia who has caused multiple incidents for his son in the past, appeared in a video on Thursday evening alongside a man carrying a Russian flag and wearing a shirt with a “Z,” a symbol of support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on it. The video, uploaded to YouTube by a pro-Putin user wanted for arrest in Australia, appeared to show Srdjan telling the Russian fans, “zivejli Russiyani,” which some media outlets translated as “long live the Russians.” Novak Djokovic emphatically condemned this translation on Friday, telling reporters his father had merely said, “cheers.”
Ukraine's ambassador to Australia wants Novak Djokovic's father banned from the Australian Open for posing with supporters of Russian president Vladimir Putin outside Melbourne Park.
MORE: https://t.co/OzBRMJMUEo pic.twitter.com/y3mHB5c4sY
— The Project (@theprojecttv) January 27, 2023
Ukrainian officials calling for Srdjan Djokovic’s expulsion follows a campaign against Russian and Belarusian players in tennis, extending it to spectators and player teams. Wimbledon, the British Grand Slam often considered the most prestigious of the four, banned Russian and Belarusian players from participating in the championship last year, a move Novak Djokovic called “crazy” (Djokovic won the tournament).
Novak Djokovic is a favorite to win the Australian Open men’s singles title on Sunday, one of the four “Grand Slams,” or most prestigious tournaments in the sport. Djokovic has won the trophy more than any other man, nine times, and is scheduled to play Greek contender Stefanos Tsitsipas for his tenth.
Novak Djokovic was the subject of much controversy this year even before the tournament began as Australian authorities barred him from playing last year. While Australian government authorities admitted to granting him a valid visa to enter the country eventually, officials detained him at Melbourne’s airport upon arrival because he had not ingested a Chinese coronavirus vaccine product. Law enforcement ultimately imprisoned Djokovic in a migrant detention facility and deported him out of fear he would invite “anti-vaccine sentiment.”
The video circulating of Srdjan Djokovic apparently supporting pro-war Russians was filmed on Wednesday evening, following his son’s defeat of Russian player Andrey Rublev. Rublev is one of the few Russian athletes in the world to publicly express opposition to his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Asked about the incident, Ukrainian Ambassador to Canberra Vasyl Myroshnychenko called it “such a disgrace” and suggested Tennis Australia, the organization that administers the Australian Open, should ban the elder Djokovic from its events.
“I think it would be a very good idea not to let him in,” Myroshnychenko said. “I don’t know why he would say something like that considering what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, how many people they have killed, tortured, raped and all the summary executions that have happened against civilians.”
“There must be sanctions imposed,” he insisted.
Myroshnychenko also insisted that it was “important” for Novak Djokovic to weigh in on the controversy, which he had not at the time the ambassador made his comments.
“Is he supporting Putin? Is he supporting war in Ukraine? What does he think about his father’s support?” the ambassador asked.
Australia’s ABC News noted that Novak Djokovic had offered to help fund Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky efforts to join the Ukrainian military against the Russian invasion.
“Please let me know what would be the best address to send help. Financial help, any other help as well,” Djokovic had told Stakhovsky at the time.
Srdjan Djokovic issued a statement on Friday stating that he “had no intention of being caught up in this” and opposed “war” generally.”
“I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption,” Srdjan Djokovic said. “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 semifinal for my son or for the other player, I have chosen to watch from home,” he concluded. “I wish for a great match and I will be cheering for my son, as always.”
Srdjan Djokovic referred to his family surviving the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, led by then-President Bill Clinton.
“I will never forgive them for bombing,” Srdjan Djokovic said in an interview with Russia’s Novosti network in 2021. “He [Novak] was 12 then. A huge bomb fell in [municipality] Rakovica; all the windows shattered in our apartment in Banjica in ’99. We fell out of bed, ran into the hallway and cried, ‘God, save us – don’t give us away. These are traumas that last a lifetime.”
The elder Djokovic did not attend his son’s semifinal match on Friday against American Tommy Paul, which he won in straight sets.
In his post-match press conference, reporters asked Novak Djokovic to weigh in on the situation and received a lengthy, frustrated answer.
“It was unfortunate that the misinterpretation of what happened yesterday has escalated to such a high level where it was, I would say, a lot of conversations with the tournament director with media and everyone else. It has got to me, of course, as well,” Novak Djokovic told reporters. “I was not aware of it until last night. And then, of course, I was not pleased to see that.”
:We don’t support any violence or any war. We know how devasating that is for the family, for people in any country that is going through the war,” Novak Djokovic emphasized.
He explained that his father had been making the rounds with his fans to “be with them, pay them respect, and make photos” and suggested that, as the Serbian and Russian flags use the same colors and similar stripes, his father did not seem to realize that he was posing with a Russian flag. Tennis Australia banned Russian flags from the tournament following complaints from Ukrainian advocates.
“My father was passing through, there was [sic] a lot of Serbian flags around and that’s what he thought. He thought he was making a photo with somebody from Serbia and that’s it, he moved on,” Novak Djokovic explained. “Of course that it’s not pleasant for me to go through this with all the things that I had to deal with last year and this year in Australia – so it’s not something that I want or need and I hope that people will let it be and we can focus on tennis.”
The tennis star added later in the interview that he could not “be angry with him or upset because it’s not his fault, he went out to celebrate with my fans and that’s it, that’s all that happened … of course, he felt bad.”
Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.