Victoria Azarenka gave a prickly response to question over the proliferation of pro-Russian flags at the Australian Open after Novak Djokovic’s father was filmed posing with a Putin flag.
The tennis tournament has been hit by controversy over the past 24 hours with a number of fans supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine during Djokovic’s win over Russian star Andrey Rublev.
A spectator was seen wearing a ‘Z’ shirt, which symbolises ultra-nationalist support of Vladimir Putin, while fans chanted pro-Russian songs outside the Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night.
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Victoria Azarenka engaged in a frosty exchange with a tennis reporter at the Australian Open
And footage uploaded to YouTube on Thursday showed Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic stood alongside a man holding a Russian flag plastered with Putin’s face on it. The man was also wearing a pro-war ‘Z’ symbol.
The Russian and Belarusian flags have been banned from the grand slam, raising concerns about security at the tournament.
But Belarusian star Azarenka – who has won the competition twice – bristled at questions regarding the display of Russian flags at Melbourne Park in a frosty exchange with an Australian reporter.
Q. There’s been a lot of scrutiny about a lot of the Russian and Belarusian players here. I’m sure even if you weren’t looking at social, you would have seen there was an incident with Novak’s dad last night. Is it difficult for you when you go out there to put all those things out of your mind? Do you think there are other players who get impacted by it?
The tournament has been plunged into controversy over support for Russia’s war in Ukraine
Novak Djokovic’s father was seen with a pro-Russia advocate after his quarter final win
Victoria Azarenka: Other players get impacted by what exactly are you asking me?
Q. Distractions out of their hands, the constant sort of news and talk about issues.
Victoria Azarenka: News are coming from who?
Q. Well, from everyone, social media.
Victoria Azarenka: You’re here talking about it right now, so obviously it’s a topic you want to continue to bring up and up and up again (smiling).
I don’t know what you want me to say.
Q. Are you able to distance yourself completely? Does it concern you at all? Do you think about it? As a fellow player, do you think how difficult that might be for Novak?
But Belarusian star Azarenka insists that the controversy has nothing to do with the players
Victoria Azarenka: I don’t know what it has to do with Novak at all, to be fair, so…
I’ve spoken to actually a security guard today who was walking me to practice every day. I know him for years. I just asked him what was the accident [sic]. He explained to me.
I don’t know what you guys want us to do about it. Like talk about it? I don’t know what’s the goal here that it’s continuously brought up. These incidents that in my opinion have nothing to do with players, but somehow you keep dragging players into it.
So what’s the goal here? I think you should ask yourself that question, not me.
Q. To clarify on that. Does it frustrate you, particularly last night, for example, there was a clear sort of pro-Russian demonstration happening within the grounds of the tournament, that these people are coming and using the Australian Open as a platform for these kind of demonstrations. Does that frustrate you?
Victoria Azarenka: Whatever the answer I’m going to give it to you right now, it’s going to be turned whichever way you want to turn it to. So does it bother me? What bothers me is there’s real things that’s going on in the world. I don’t know. Are you a politician? Are you? Are you covering politics?
Saturday’s women’s final will feature Russian-born Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan and Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka
Q. No, I’m a sports journalist.
Victoria Azarenka: And I’m an athlete. You’re asking me about things that maybe somebody says are in my control, but I don’t believe that.
I don’t know what you want me to answer. If it’s a provocative question, then you can spin the story however you want.
A statement from Tennis Australia on Thursday afternoon addressed the incident outside Rod Laver Arena.
‘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 police with unrelated matters,’ it read.
‘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.’
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