Spectator evicted as Palestine protest lobs at Open

Aus Open highlights - Day 9

@AusOpen – X

A masked protester interrupted a tense five-set battle between Olympic champion Alexander Zverev and Brit Cameron Norrie by tossing leaflets onto the court decrying the bombing of Gaza.

The fourth-round match was briefly halted during the sixth game of the third set on Monday afternoon after a woman in the stands threw the papers emblazoned with “free Palestine”.

The leaflets that fluttered to the ground were printed with the words “while watching tennis bombs are dropping on Gaza” and “Australia is complicit in war crimes and genocide”.

Ball kids gathered them up and the protester was removed before the match continued, with German No.6 seed Zverev going on to triumph 7-5 3-6 6-3 6-4 7-6 (10-3).

Palestinian, Israeli, Russian and Belarusian flags are banned from Melbourne Park amid ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine.

A pro-Palestinian protester throws leaflets in Margaret Court Arena. Photo: Getty

In a statement late on Monday evening, a Tennis Australia spokeswoman praised two patrons who stepped in to stop the protester.

“As soon as the behaviour was identified and reported, venue security was deployed to detain the individual,” she said.

“The individual was subsequently evicted from the event.

“(Melbourne and Olympic Parks and Tennis Australia) do not tolerate any behaviour which seeks to disrupt the event and impacts other fans’ enjoyment of the Australian Open.”

Speaking to reporters after the match, Zverev noted his surprise at fans getting to the woman before staff, given the event’s “extremely strict” security against players.

“Even today, I played obviously five sets, four hours, some minutes. I went to the locker room, and the gym area is right next to the locker room. They wouldn’t let me into the gym because I forgot my credentials in the locker room.

“What are you doing? You’re protecting players from players. That’s not really the whole point. Something like this happens and it takes three, four minutes for somebody to show up.”

He said he understood both sides of the debate about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“There’s obviously a lot going on in the world and a lot of quite bad things happen,” the 26-year-old said.

“I understand some people are frustrated. Of course, a tennis match has nothing particularly to do with it.”

Ball kids clean up the mess of leaflets. Photo: Getty

Victoria Police said officers were told a small group of patrons had also thrown pamphlets on to nearby Kia Arena and scattered others at the entrance of Garden Square.

“Police detained a 35-year-old woman and a 36-year-old woman to obtain their details,” a police spokeswoman said.

“The duo were given a direction to leave the event. No offences were detected during the incident.”

A group claiming responsibility for the demonstration suggested thousands of leaflets had been dropped across Melbourne Park.

Video also showed a grey ute fitted out with loud-speakers playing audio of air raids outside the event as police watched on.

The group accused the Open of being “complicit in the genocidal attempt of Israel to erase Palestine and its people” over its prohibition on all symbols associated with Palestine.

“We call on the Australian government to remove its embassy from Israel, cut all diplomatic and military ties, and join nations around the world demanding an immediate and unconditional ceasefire,” it said in a statement.

“Any country actively supporting genocide should not be the host of prestigious world sporting events.”

Displeased Djokovic

Australian Open organisers have rebuffed 10-time champion Novak Djokovic’s plea to return to his favoured prime-time night slot on Rod Laver Arena.

The Serbian legend sent a statement to tournament director Craig Tiley on Sunday after his fourth-round match with Adrian Mannarino was relegated to the afternoon to accommodate Australian Alex de Minaur’s match against Russian Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic served up a rare “double bagel” to the French journeyman on his way to a 6-0 6-0 6-3 demolition and wasn’t even pretending to hide his preference for the night slot.

“It’s no secret I love to play at 7pm,” he said after his run of 15 straight night matches in Melbourne came to an end.

But the king of Melbourne Park’s push to return to prime time has fallen on deaf ears, with his quarter-final clash with American Taylor Fritz on Tuesday scheduled second-up in the afternoon.

Already the men’s grand slam record-holder, Djokovic will surpass Australian Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 if he claims an 11th Australian Open title on Sunday.

But the 36-year-old has no plans to retire any time soon, even if he clinches an unprecedented 25th slam.

“While being No.1 and still on top of the game, I don’t feel like leaving tennis in that position,” Djokovic said ahead of a record-equalling 58th grand slam quarter-final.

“I feel like I want to keep on going.”

Novak Djokovic will have to play his quarter final on Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Getty

Organisers have instead opted to give top billing on Tuesday night to Italian fourth seed Jannik Sinner and Rublev, who will be trying to avoid a 10th consecutive grand slam quarter-final defeat.

The 26-year-old Russian lost to Sinner — the only man through to the last eight in Melbourne yet to drop a set — in both their meetings last year.

In the women’s draw, American No.4 seed and 2023 US Open champion Coco Gauff will lead off quarter-final action on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday against unseeded Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.

The 2024 Australian Open is Gauff’s last major as a teenager and she has dropped just 16 games in her first four matches.

The winner is likely to catch Belarusian world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semis, but the defending champion must first navigate a tricky encounter with 2021 French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova.

Quarter-finals matches

  • Men’s singles

1-Novak Djokovic (SRB) v 12-Taylor Fritz (USA)

4-Jannik Sinner (ITA) v 5- Andrey Rublev (RUS)

  • Women’s singles

2-Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) v 9-Barbora Krejcikova (CZE)

4-Coco Gauff (USA) v Marta Kostyuk (UKR)

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