A Cincinnati Open spectator was forced to leave a match between two Russian stars Sunday when one of the players took offense to her flying the Ukrainian flag.
The fan, an American identified in local media only as ‘Lola’, said the qualifying match between Anna Kalinskaya and Anastasia Potapova was stopped for the umpire to call to her and say ‘you’re not being nice’ and she was threatened with the police being called by a security guard.
Video of the incident posted online showed WTA chair umpire Morgane Lara come down from her chair to speak to the fan, who ultimately left the court.
Officials have since blamed the size of the flag breaching their regulations.
Lola, who was left in tears, told Local 12: ‘This is not Russia. This is United States of America.’
She added: ‘We had our Ukrainian flag, not doing anything crazy, distracting players, but wrapped around, sitting there peacefully and quiet.’
A tennis fan draped in a Ukraine flag was forced to leave a match at the Cincinnati Open
Tennis fan Lola was sat among other spectators when a Russian player complained about her
Asked about the confrontation with security, the American fan, originally from Uzbekistan, said the umpire told her: ‘You’re not being nice. You need to put the flag away.’
Lola said: ‘The message I got was that it is agitating Russian players. I said, “I’m not putting it away”. They kept playing for a minute or two. Then, they stopped the game again, and then the security guard came up to me and said, “Ma’am, I’m going to call the cops if you won’t leave”.’
She was reported to have watched the match silently.
A statement from the Cincinnati Open, currently branded as the Western & Southern Open, read: ‘Per the Western & Southern Open’s bag policy, as stated on the tournament’s website, flags or banners larger than 18 x 18 are prohibited.
‘Therefore, the patron was asked to remove the flag from the grounds and after doing so was allowed to remain at the tournament.
‘Any inquiries about the chair umpire should be directed to the WTA Tour.’ The WTA Tour did not respond to a request for comment.
The flashpoint was triggered during Anna Kalinskaya and Anastasia Potapova’s match
The tournament’s attempts to quell the outrage around Lola’s expulsion has done little to stop complaints from fans online. Spectators are now planning to buy Ukraine flags in bulk to fly at the tournament this week.
Tonight, Serena Williams plays US Open winner Emma Raducanu in what will be her penultimate tournament before retirement.
The war in Ukraine has posed a delicate issue for tennis authorities to deal with. Last month, Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon in the absence of world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev after the Russian superstar and his countrymen were banned from the tournament in response to the war.
The players in Sunday’s match, Kalinskaya, 23, and Potapov, 21, have both posted anti-war messages in the past.
Potapova distanced herself from the ‘politics’ of the invasion on her Instagram page earlier in the year but claimed athletes were a ‘hostage of the situation’ in an attempt to defend herself.
The 21-year-old is ranked 54th in the world and was a former junior No. 1. She won the Wimbledon girls’ singles title in 2016.
Potapova previously posted a message earlier in the year saying she was ‘a stranger to politics’ and ‘against grief, tears and war’
Kalinskaya wore a ‘NO WAR’ message on her shoes at the Indian Wells Masters in March
The incident has caused outrage online, with fans vowing to fly the Ukraine flag in Cincinnati
Kalinskaya wore a ‘NO WAR’ message on her shoes at March’s Indian Wells Masters. She is ranked 69th in the world and is best known for beating Sloane Stephens in the first round of the US Open in 2019.
Both players are now seeing their Instagram comments flooded with Ukrainian flag messages.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feburary 24, calling it a ‘special military operation’ aimed at pre-emptively safeguarding its security against NATO expansion. Ukraine and the West accuse Moscow of waging an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression.
The U.S. Open, which starts on August 29, will allow players from Russia and Belarus to compete and will host a tournament-long campaign to raise awareness and humanitarian aid for Ukraine with a goal of raising $2million in relief, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said last week.