Pro-Russia protesters storm Australian Open with Putin and ‘Z’ banners

Djokovic always draws large numbers of fans to his matches at this event – which he has won nine times – and many arrive carrying or wearing the Serbian flag in some form.

On this occasion, a small minority took the opportunity to promote the Russian cause. Traditionally, the links between Serbia and Russia have been strong due to their shared Slavic heritage and their Eastern Orthodox religion.

The Australian Open is building towards a concluding weekend that could underline why Wimbledon chose to ban Russians and Belarusians last summer.

The last four women include two Belarusians in Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka, as well as Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but plays under the Kazakh flag.

The last four men include Russia’s Karen Khachanov, who has already become involved in a political row during this tournament after expressing his support for a small Armenian community which protests its independence from Azerbaijan.

Billie Jean King calls for end to Wimbledon’s Russia and Belarus ban

By Molly McElwee

The incident comes after Billie Jean King called on Wimbledon to reverse its ban on Russian and Belarusian players at the Championships this July.

Last year Wimbledon organisers became outliers in tennis when they opted to omit players from Russia and Belarus, in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

It prompted a huge row within the sport, and the WTA and ATP withdrew ranking points from Wimbledon as well as imposing fines as punishment.

Wimbledon are expected to formally announce a U-turn on their policy in the next few weeks, and King – one of the founders of the women’s tour – has urged them to do so.

“Just keep it the same way as the other ones are,” she told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday. “Life is too short. Just have them play and get their money. It’s the ranking points, for sure. They have to have it.

“Rybakina, they’ve seeded her 25th, but because she won Wimbledon, she’s not [seeded higher]. We are a platform to have discussions on this. I think it’s important. The WTA was started for that, so we’d all have one voice, too, to help protect players.”

At the Australian Open, Azarenka and Sabalenka could make it an all-Belarusian showdown on Saturday, if they win their respective semi-finals. The irony is that neither were allowed to compete at Wimbledon last season, due to Belarusian athletes being banned as a result of their country’s allyship with Putin.

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