All in an evening’s work for Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open: moving into the final and then insisting that his father’s associations with Russian sympathisers at Melbourne Park had been misinterpreted.
The 35 year-old Serbian will seek a tenth title on Sunday, and not even the distraction of a family member posing in front of a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it, next to a man wearing a ‘Z’ T-shirt, has been enough to derail him.
Djokovic outclassed American Tommy Paul to set up a meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas, with his father Srdjan staying away from the stadium to reduce attention on his appearance in a pro-Russian YouTube video.
Novak Djokovic has broken his silence on the outrage surrounding his father, Srdjan
The nine-times champion, who will now have a chance to regain the world number one spot, described his parent as having been ‘misused’ by people expressing support for Russia outside the Rod Laver Arena this week.
‘It was unfortunate that the misinterpretation of what happened yesterday has escalated to such a high level,’ he said. ‘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.
‘My father, my whole family, and myself, have been through several wars during ’90s. As my father put in a statement, we are against the war, we never will support any violence or any war. We know how devastating that is for people in any country that is going through war.
Novak Djokovic’s father was seen with a pro-Russia advocate after his quarter final win
Srdjan chose to stay away from Rod Laver Arena for Djokovic’s semi-final victory on Friday
‘My father 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, pay them respect, and make photos. The photo that he made, he was passing through.
‘There were a lot of Serbian flags around. That’s what he thought. He thought he was making photo with somebody from Serbia. He was misused in this situation by this group of people.’
What exactly was said on the video is disputed, but the player insisted: ‘He said ‘Cheers’. Unfortunately some of the media has interpreted that in a really wrong way.’
Djokovic added: ‘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. It’s not something that I want or need.’
Djokovic insists that his father was ‘misused’ by pro-Russian supporters in Melbourne
For all the maintaining of innocence it is a considerable stretch to claim that Srdjan could not have been aware of the sort of people he was consorting with. ?Especially with the kind of things being chanted, said to the camera and the T-shirt which was being worn. It was unobservant, to say the least.
‘I am here to support my son only. I had no intention of causing such headlines or disruption,’ he had stated in an earlier release, announcing his decision to stay away.
He made a similar point about having lived through wars. It was strange that it took so long for the family to come up with any response.
Djokovic had been way too good for world number 35 Paul, although he did betray signs of agitation when he let a 5-1 lead slip in the first set after getting involved in a pointless row with umpire Damien Dumusois about when the shot clock should start between points.
He admitted that the attention surrounding the controversy had unsettled him in Australia
That the crowd should have been vociferously rooting for a relatively obscure American as they did suggested that the whole episode of Wednesday has dented Djokovic’s standing. When he clinched the first set and cocked his ear to the crowd boos rang out around the Rod Laver Arena.
The crowd behaviour issue within Melbourne Park reached vaguely farcical levels when security personnel questioned a man in the front row who had been seen wearing a ‘Z’ t-shirt on Wednesday night, but had not been part of any impromptu rally outside the arena.
The man concerned gave his name as Zoran Pavlovic, an American citizen, and his explanation about the attire he had been wearing was that it represented his Christian name, rather than any support for the Russian army. Not causing a disturbance, he was allowed to remain until the end.
Tsitsipas also stands to be elevated to number one tomorrow if he wins, and he should prove a completely different proposition regardless of any crowd input, at the Grand Slam where he has been his most consistent. He made it through the Melbourne semi-final at his fourth attempt by eventually subduing Russian Karen Khachanov 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-3 in three hours and 21 minutes.
There may be some relief within the confines of the tournament that it is the popular Greek through, and not another from Russia or Belarus.