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Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, stays away from Australian Open semifinal

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Novak Djokovic's father, Srdjan, stays away from Australian Open semifinal

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Srdjan Djokovic, the father of tennis star Novak Djokovic, said he would stay away from his son’s semifinal match at the Australian Open, after he was seen earlier this week posing with fans carrying pro-Russian symbols banned by the tournament.

In a statement released hours before his son beat Tommy Paul of the United States in straight sets, Srdjan Djokovic confirmed he would not attend to avoid creating any “disruption,” saying: “I am here to support my son only.”

A video shared online this week appeared to show Srdjan Djokovic standing alongside supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin after his son’s victory over Russian player Andrey Rublev on Wednesday.

One fan could be seen holding a Russian flag featuring an image of Putin and wearing a T-shirt with the letter “Z,” which has become a pro-Russian symbol since the invasion of Ukraine. Srdjan Djokovic responded “Zivjeli Russiyani,” translated in the video as “Long live the Russians,” before walking away.

Video shows Novak Djokovic’s father with pro-Russia fans at Australian Open

In his statement, Srdjan, who is Serbian, said he had taken photos with fans “as I have done after all of my son’s matches. 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,” he added.

Novak Djokovic addressed the controversy after he defeated Paul, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2, to advance to Sunday’s final against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

“Well, yeah, I saw, as everybody else saw, what happened [Wednesday],” Djokovic said. “It was unfortunate that the misinterpretation of what happened [Wednesday] has escalated to such a high level. There was, I would say, a lot of conversations with tournament director, with media and everyone else. It has got to me, of course, as well. I was not aware of it till last night. Then, of course, I was not pleased to see that.”

Djokovic went on to echo his father’s statement that his family does not support war, that Srdjan was meeting with fans as he usually does after his son’s matches, and that his presence was misconstrued.

“My father, as he said in the statement, has been going after every single match to meet with my fans at the main square here in Australian Open, to thank them for the support, to be with them, pay them respect, and make photos,” Djokovic said. “The photo that he made, he was passing through. I heard what he said in the video. He said, ‘Cheers.’ Unfortunately some of the media has interpreted that in a really wrong way. I’m sorry that that has escalated so much. But I hope people understand that there was absolutely no intention whatsoever to support any kind of war initiatives or anything like that.”

Although flags are normally permitted during Australian Open matches at Melbourne Park, Tennis Australia banned Russian and Belarusian flags on the second day of this year’s tournaments after a Russian flag was displayed courtside during a first-round women’s match last week between Kateryna Baindl of Ukraine and Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia. Tennis Australia then said the flags would be banned to avoid “disruption.”

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have only been allowed to compete at the Australian Open and a number of other tennis tournaments as “neutral” players, with no reference to their countries or flags, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine that Belarus supported. In other sporting events, including Wimbledon and the men’s soccer World Cup, they were completely banned from taking part.

“Throughout the event we’ve spoken with players and their teams about the importance of not engaging in any activity that causes distress or disruption,” Tennis Australia said in a statement Friday.

Noting Srdjan Djokovic’s decision not to attend Friday’s match, the body said that it would “continue to strive for the safety of fans at the event,” and repeated that flags from Russia and Belarus were banned. “Tennis Australia stands with the call for peace and an end to war and violent conflict in Ukraine.”

Michael Miller in New South Wales, Australia, and Liz Clarke in Washington contributed to this report.

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