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Serbian tennis fans mistaken for Russians, stripped of national flag

The Australian tennis federation’s ruling on the issue was promptly made on January 16 following numerous complaints on behalf of Ukrainian tennis fans

SYDNEY, January 23. /TASS/. Security personnel at the 2023 Australian Open attempted to seize a Serbian flag from a fan, mistaking it for the banned national flag of Russia, British newspaper Daily Mail reported on Monday.

According to a report from the Daily Mail, "Australian Open security guards have been branded 'racist' for bizarrely trying to confiscate a Serbian flag from fans after mistaking it for Russia's national symbol."

The British daily provided video footage which showed security personnel at the stadium in Australia telling a Serbian tennis fan not to drape the national flag of Serbia over his shoulders. One of the security officials on video is visibly holding printed-out instructions with an image of the Russian national flag on it.

Serbian tennis great Novak Djokovic played earlier in the day at the 2023 Australian Open, winning in straight sets against Australia’s Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. Djokovic, 35, boasts 92 wins on the ATP circuit and he is currently the world’s No. 5 ranked player. The Serbian is the winner of 21 Grand Slam titles (nine Australian Opens, seven Wimbledons, three US Opens and two French Opens).

Tennis Australia (the country’s governing tennis body) announced early this week that it ruled to ban the national flags of Russia and Belarus from being displayed in the crowd during matches of the 2023 Australian Open tennis tournament.

The Australian tennis federation’s ruling on the issue was promptly made on January 16 following numerous complaints on behalf of Ukrainian tennis fans. They called local police authorities 14 times that day, citing emergency matters and demanded to settle the matter of unfurled Russian flags in the stands during a 1st round match between Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova and Katerina Baindl of Ukraine.

The 2022 Australian Open tournament is played on hard courts at Melbourne Park between January 16 and 29 and it has $53.4 million in prize money up for grabs. The opening tournament of the annual Grand Slam series in Australia marks its 111th edition this year. Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty are the reigning Australian Open champions in men’s and women’s singles respectively.

The Russian men's singles champions at the Australian Open tournaments were Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1999) and Marat Safin (2005). Russia’s Daniil Medvedev reached the final of the tournament in Melbourne last year, but eventually lost to Rafael Nadal of Spain.

Russian players’ neutral status at tennis tournaments

On February 28, 2022, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued recommendations to international sports federations to bar athletes from Russia and Belarus from taking part in international tournaments, citing Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine as the reason.

Following the IOC’s recommendations in late February last year, the majority of global sports federations decided to bar athletes from Russia and Belarus from all international sports tournaments.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) ruled on March 1, 2022 to suspend the membership of the Russian and Belarusian national tennis federations and also canceled all previously scheduled tennis tournaments in these countries.

On March 14, 2022 the ITF also confirmed its ban on the Russian and Belarusian national tennis teams from taking part in the 2022 Davis Cup and 2022 Billie Jean King Cup.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) allowed tennis players from Russia and Belarus to continue participating in WTA and ATP tournaments, but under a neutral status.