Ashraf Ali Siddiqui describes dissent-ridden tennis grand slam
Controversy at Australian Open is widely considered an island of tranquility and is usually free of protests and controversies. The most celebrated sports event hosted by Australia is the tennis grand slam and it is largely attended by tennis players. This time what happened is that political conflict caused trouble at the ongoing Australian Open where the unrest erupted when four Australian Open spectators were detained by police after waving banned Russian flags and threatening security at Melbourne Park. It is very rare that this sort of trouble erupts in sporting venue in Australian tennis and it was quite embarrassing for the organisers to be subjected to this kind of disruption.
During Novak Djokovic’s quarter-final victory over Russia’s Andrey Rublev at Rod Laver Arena, a patron was spotted taking off their shirt to reveal the pro-war “Z” symbol associated with support of the invasion of Ukraine. Djokovic inadvertently signed a shirt for the spectator after the straight sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory. Russian Andrey Rublev did not perform well and was beaten in three straight sets by the world’s number one certainly disappointing many having sympathies for the player and Russia.
After the match, a group of spectators were seen waving flags and chanting “Serbia, Russia” near the stadium. At least one man was holding a flag with the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin on it. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from taking part in several global sporting events, including Wimbledon. However, Russian and Belarusian players have been permitted to compete in this year’s Australian Open as independent neutrals, forbidden from representing their countries.
A Victoria Police statement confirmed: “Police spoke to four men after a Russian flag was produced on the steps at the tennis about 10.20pm on Wednesday 25 January. All four men were evicted.” Last week, the Australian Open banned spectators from carrying Russian flags, donning Putin’s Z symbol or chanting pro-Russian songs. Russia’s embassy condemned Tennis Australia’s flag ban, calling it another example of unacceptable politicisation of sports.
During his evening’s victory, Djokovic complained to the chair umpire about vocal Russian supporters at Rod Laver Arena. He stated that if somebody steps over the line and starts making comments that are not related to support of the other player, he just wants to provoke and insult, then stepping over the line is something that he reacts to adding that after condoning the undue disruption caused by a section of the crowd he asked the chair umpire to take action.
On the other hand Djokovic is playing extremely well aiming to clinch the record 10th Australian Open title and in another astonishing record, he clocked a 26th consecutive match-win to equal Andre Agassi’s Open-era record for longest streak at the first Grand Slam of the year. Victory for the red-hot favourite propelled him into a 44th Grand Slam semi-final to close the gap on Federer’s all-time record of 46. TW