Srdjan Djokovic, the father of Novak Djokovic, has been pictured posing for photos with Vladimir Putin supporters at the Australian Open on Wednesday night.
Four men had been evicted from Melbourne Park by Victoria police on Wednesday night after chanting pro-Russian and pro-Vladimir Putin slogans on the steps of Rod Laver Arena while brandishing numerous Russian flags, including one with the face of Putin on it.
Before the eviction of the four pro-Kremlin supporters, Srdjan Djokovic met fans outside Rod Laver Arena and took photos with a spectator wearing a “Z” symbol shirt while brandishing a Russian flag with a large picture of Putin’s face.
In the video, posted by Aussie Cossack on YouTube, Srdjan Djokovic appears to say “zivjeli Russiyani” or “long live Russian citizens” before he leaves. “Zivjeli” means “cheers” in Serbian and Croatian, used during a toast, and Russiyani means citizens of Russia.
The man Djokovic appears with is wearing a shirt that is also branded with the logo of the Russian motorbike gang the Night Wolves, and he starts his video message by offering a greeting from Melbourne to the gang’s international president, Alexander Zaldostanov.
Zaldostanov is considered a personal friend of Putin who, along with the club, was reportedly hit with European Union sanctions last year.
Before the match, Simeon Boikov, who runs the Aussie Cossack YouTube channel, called on other pro-Putin supporters to attend the event in order to “strike back” at Tennis Australia.
It came after TA banned Russian flags at the Australian Open after an incident during the first-round match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russian Kamilla Rakhimova, when spectators showed up with Russian flags.
Boikov has been accused of assaulting a 76-year-old man at a Sydney rally in support of Ukraine, and this week an arrest warrant was issued against him. He is currently seeking refuge in the Russian consulate.
“Today Djokovic plays Andrey Rublev. I hereby appeal or instruct everyone to get down there. I can confirm that we’ve got some surprises,” Boikov said.
“Tennis Australia, brace yourselves… for fans, for people who love tennis, if you know what I mean. I’ve got to say it that way or they’ll get me for incitement. We’ve got a lot of serious fans in Melbourne heading down.
“This is about honor and dignity now. This is an attack on honor and dignity. This has got nothing to do with the war. This is an attack on freedom in Australia. This is discrimination. This is racism. It’s illegal to ban people’s flags.
“The Russian empire has had its flag banned. Well, guess what, Tennis Australia? Good luck when the empire strikes back.”
On Thursday, Victoria police confirmed that four men had been evicted from Melbourne Park.
“Police spoke to four men after a Russian flag was produced on the steps at the tennis court about 10.20pm on Wednesday 25 January. All four men were evicted,” said Victoria police in a statement.
The group was also seen to be brandishing a flag for the Night Wolves, the pro-Putin gang that is believed to have a presence in at least four Australian states.
Recent public social media posts show some Australian members repeatedly sharing pro-Russia propaganda.
The club’s members include individuals who have posed with the flag of Republika Srpska, a pro-Russian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on rides.
In 2020, Djokovic was criticized when he accepted the Order of the Republika Srpska for his work promoting tennis in the region, despite previous recipients of the order including convicted Serb war criminals.
After the release of the Djokovic photos, Tennis Australia warned players and their teams against interacting with prohibited flags.
“A small group of people displayed inappropriate flags and symbols and threatened security guards following a match on Wednesday night and were evicted. One patron is now assisting the police with unrelated matters,” said Tennis Australia in a statement.
“Players and their teams have been briefed and reminded of the event policy regarding flags and symbols and to avoid any situation that has the potential to disrupt. We continue to work closely with event security and law enforcement agencies.”
The Ukrainian ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, tweeted of the Russian supporters at the opening “it’s a full package. Among the Serbian flags, there is: a Russian flag, Putin, Z-symbol, so-called Donetsk People’s Republic flag. It’s such a disgrace …”.