January 26, 2023 - 5:57pm

Novak Djokovic can’t catch a break. Last year, the tennis star was deported from Australia for breaching the country’s border rules implemented after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. And now his father, Srdjan Djokovic, has been filmed posing with fans brandishing pro-Russian flags at the Australian Open, who have been identified as a Moscow-based motorcycle gang known as ‘Night Wolves’. On top of that, it has been reported that Srdjan chanted “Long live Russia” following his son’s match against Andrey Rublev. 

The Ukrainian ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, labelled the flag-waving ‘shameful and later went on to tweet: ‘It’s a full package. Among the Serbian flags, there is: a Russian flag, Putin, Z-symbol, so-called Donetsk People’s Republic flag’. Although no official punishments have as yet been meted out, the tournament director made it clear that there would be repercussions if it were to happen again

This is not the first time Srdjan has attracted controversy. In fact, back in Serbia he has a reputation as something of a rabble-rouser. For example, last year, while Novak was detained in Australia, his father organised conferences and protests around Belgrade. During such events, he would claim that:

[The Australian government is] keeping [Novak] in captivity. They’re stomping all over him to stomp all over Serbia and the Serbian people. Scott Morrison [Australian PM at the time] and his like have dared attack Novak to bring Serbia to its knees.
- Srdjan Djokovic
Srdjan with the Night Wolves. Credit: Youtube.

Srdjan Djokovic was born in Kosovo in 1961. He met his future wife and Novak’s mother at the Kopaonik mountain range, where the Djokovic family owned and ran a restaurant. The family struggled with money, but managed to cover Novak’s tennis expenses while his father travelled with him.

As Novak’s profile grew, so did Srdjan’s. Although his son refrained from talking politics — saying that it should be divorced from sports — Srdjan went in the other direction. Over the years, he became closer with President Aleksandar Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party, attending their rallies and celebrations. In fact, it is rumoured that Srdjan engaged in some unscrupulous dealmaking thanks to his alignment with the Party and the government. Notably, he secured a controversial construction license to expand Novak Tennis Centre around the Kalemegdan fortress, despite the concern expressed by the country’s Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. 

But a more troubling, anti-Western streak also began to emerge: appearing on the pro-Russian news channel Sputnik, Srdjan argued that no one could take Kosovo away from the Serbs, and that Serbia without Kosovo is like “a body without a soul”. Then, in 2021, Srdjan went so far as to say that the “West doesn’t like [Novak]” after the fallout over his vaccine status. 

Whether it was the reaction to Djokovic’s refusal to get the vaccine, the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 or something else, there is clearly no love lost between Srdjan and the West. This has culminated in the images in Australia that we have seen this week, raising difficult questions for the star athlete, who has already condemned the war and pledged to support fellow Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky.

It is a shame to see Srdjan stealing his son’s limelight. On the cusp of winning a 22nd Grand Slam, Novak could equal the all-time men’s record this weekend. But alas, when you come from a country that has not imposed sanctions against Russia — like Serbia — and your father poses with a crowd that openly supports Putin’s war efforts, the focus, unsurprisingly, turns elsewhere. Should Novak win his next two games, it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts when he lifts the trophy on Sunday.

Helena Ivanov is Belgrade-based Associate Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society. She is also a PhD Candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences where she examines the role of the media in the breakup of Yugoslavia.