Security is expected to be further tightened at the Australian Open over finals weekend after Novak Djokovic’s presence sparked another heckler incident, plus displays of pro-Russia sentiment among his fans.
Despite clear restrictions and searches at entry points, a Russian flag with Vladimir Putin’s face on it was unfurled on the steps of Rod Laver Arena after Djokovic made it through to the semi-finals.
Another of his supporters sat in the front row and unveiled a T-shirt with a large ‘Z’ on it, the emblem of the Russian army.
Security is expected to be further tightened at the Australian Open over finals weekend
This was despite the nine-times champion playing a Russian, Andrey Rublev, who he crushed 6-1 6-2 6-4 as he went marching on towards another title.
Later a picture emerged of Djokovic signing something for the man in the ‘Z’ shirt, although by then it appeared he had covered it up.
Afterwards a group of fans chanted ‘Russia, Serbia’ in a reminder of the two countries’ close cultural ties, and the sympathy that some from the latter have towards Putin’s war in Ukraine.
A fan at the Australian Open has been seen wearing an ultra-nationalist Russian war symbol
The ‘Z’ symbol is among a number of items banned from this year’s Australian Open
A group of fans chanted ‘Russia, Serbia’ in a reminder of the two countries’ close cultural ties
‘Four people in the crowd leaving the stadium revealed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards,’ said Tennis Australia in a statement.
‘Victoria Police intervened and are continuing to question them. The comfort and safety of everyone is our priority and we work closely with security and authorities.’
For his part Djokovic was again unhappy with being heckled by one individual, and after the first set bitterly complained to British umpire James Keothavong.
The 35-year-old pointed out a fan in the crowd who shouted ‘send him home’ on Wednesday
There has been an unusually charged atmosphere at his matches this year after the events of twelve months ago, when he was detained and then deported after legal wrangling.
This tournament is a volatile intersection, which sees fervent support for Djokovic, added to by fringe elements of the Serbian community at a time of turmoil in Europe.
Further feeding into it is the presence of two Russian-born players in the semi-finals, Elena Rybakina and Karen Khachanov, plus two Belarussians, Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka.
Four barrackers were thrown out of Djokovic’s second round match, but the one in the Rublev match was allowed to remain as he quietened down.
‘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 I react to,’ said Djokovic later.
‘After that, I heard him, but he was supporting Rublev. He was not making any bad comments till the end of the match, so I didn’t have any complaints about that further on.’
He had been less sanguine earlier: ‘Can you tell the front guy to shut up or not?’ he demanded of Keothavong, brother of former GB number one Anne. ‘ Every point, every single point, you’re not reacting’.
‘I don’t mind if he is supporting him [Rublev]. But for three or four times in a row, he has said things about me.’
The male heckler had shouted ‘Send him home Rublev,’ but it was not clear whether he had gone further than that. Four spectators, wearing ‘Where’s Wally’ outfits were chucked out last week for repeatedly goading him.
His two remaining opponents at the Australian Open would surely prefer their supporters not to wind up the 35 year-old Serb any more than he has been.
He will now play outsider Tommy Paul, and the American will hope to avoid the kind of beating that Djokovic seems even more inclined to dish out when he is riled. It just makes puff out his chest, Incredible Hulk-fashion, and play even better.
Djokovic will now play American Tommy Paul (pictured) in the Australian Open semi-finals
Now that the problem with his hamstring, which he is slightly protecting, seems banished as any kind of significant factor there is nothing which suggests he can be beaten.
He has reached nine semi-finals in Melbourne and won them all, going on to reach nine finals, which he has won every time.
Paul, the world number 35, ended the breakout run of 20 year-old Ben Shelton in the quarter finals.
The older American has been a contrastingly gradual improver to the rising star, and is through to the last four having never made it past the fourth round at a Grand Slam before.
He was able to take advantage of his young compatriot’s weaker backhand side to win 7-6 6-3 5-7 6-4.
Paul and his quarter finals opponent Ben Shelton warmly embraced at the net after the match
Britain’s last representative in the main events, Neal Skupski, was eliminated after a brace of defeats on the day that Wimbledon announced a change to its doubles code.
The All England Club will reduce men’s doubles matches from best of five to best of three sets, in line with other Majors and in the hope that it might attract more singles players.
Skupski and partner Wesley Koolhof lost in the men’s doubles quarters, and then he went out of the mixed semi-finals with American team-mate Desirae Krawczyk.
He said later he was considering his future in the mixed, due to the workload in tournaments.