Novak Djokovic said he had “no intention” of supporting his father Shrodzhan’s “war initiative” after he was filmed with a group of Russian fans at the Australian Open.
Djokovic defeated American Tommy Paul in straight sets on Friday to reach his 10th Australian Open final. Ahead of the match, tournament organizers said they had “briefed and reminded” players and their visitors about the tournament’s “policy regarding flags and symbols”.
On Wednesday, the video showed a group of supporters of Djokovic’s father holding Russian flags and displaying the “Z” sign, seen as a sign of support for his attacks on Russia and Ukraine.
The symbol has appeared on Russian equipment and clothing in Ukraine.
Srijan Djokovic said he would not be in the stands to watch his son’s semi-final, adding that he was in Melbourne “only to support my son” and had “no intention of causing such headlines or disruption.”
After his victory over Paul on Friday, Djokovic said: “My father, my whole family and I went through several battles in the 90s.
“As my father made a statement, we are against war, we will never support any violence or any war. We know how devastating it is for families, for people in any country going through war.”
As a child growing up in Belgrade, Djokovic lived through NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign in 1999, aimed at ending atrocities committed by then-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic’s troops against ethnic Albanians in the province of Kosovo.
Djokovic added that his father, as has been the case throughout the Australian Open, went to meet the fans, many of whom were displaying Serbian flags, to thank them for their support after his Australian Open quarter-final.
“The picture he made, he was going through,” Djokovic said. “I heard what he said in the video. He said, ‘Cheers.’ Unfortunately, some media have interpreted this really wrongly.
“I am sorry that it has escalated so much. But I hope people understand that there was no intention to support any kind of war initiative or anything like that.
“My father… he thought he was taking pictures with someone from Serbia. That’s it. I went ahead.”
Asked if his father would return to the stadium for Sunday’s final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, Djokovic said he would wait and see.
“Of course, not having him in the box again was not pleasant [on Friday],” he said. “It was a decision we made together. I don’t think we knew how things would play out.
“I hope to get him. I hope he feels OK to be on the court because I want to have him there for the final.”
The presence of Russian flags and symbols at the Australian Open has been a source of controversy throughout the tournament.
In the first week, organizers banned spectators from displaying Russian and Belarusian flags, and on Wednesday, they said four people were ejected from a Melbourne park for displaying pro-war imagery.
Several Ukrainians, including current player Marta Kostyuk and former player Alexander Dolgopolov, spoke out against the presence of the Russian flag and the “Z” symbol at the tournament.
On court, Djokovic has been in great form over the past two weeks and is a strong favorite to beat Tsitsipas in the men’s singles final.
If he does, he will win his 10th Australian Open title and 22nd Grand Slam crown, leaving him tied with Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s all-time list.