Friday, January 23, 2009

Wars in the Balkans, the sport version

Violence at Australian Open during match between Novak Djokovic and Amer Delic

Insults, punches and then chairs were thrown at Melbourne Park on Friday during fighting between Serbian and Bosnian spectators after the third-round match of the Australian Open between Serbian Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, and Amer Delic, a Bosnian-born American.

Mark Hodgkinson, Melbourne

The Telegraph

January 23

Two men were arrested and 30 spectators thrown out of the grounds after the fighting, which saw one woman knocked out after being struck by a flying chair.

It is the third year in succession that there has been crowd unrest at the Australian Open, following the running battles between Croatian and Serbian supporters during the 2007 tournament and last year's incident when police used pepper-spray on some Greek fans.

The police had hoped that they had the security measures in place for this year's Australian Open to prevent a repeat of the crowd violence.

The French Open is known for being oh so terribly chic, Wimbledon is famed for its strawberry-and-cream traditions, and the US Open prides itself on being the loudest party in the sport, but now the Australian Open has developed a reputation for being the Fight Club of the tennis world, for being the place where age-old Balkan enmities come alive in the garden area.

Earlier this week, two fans were ejected from Melbourne Park after scuffles that followed Croatian Marin Cilic's second-round victory over Janko Tipsarevic, of Serbia.

Before the match against Djokovic, Delic had posted a message on his website asking his supporters not to cause any unrest. "As we all know, Bosnians and Serbs have had some differences in the past," said Delic.

"However, this is not the time to settle these differences. Novak and I are tennis players in one of the greatest settings in the world of tennis. I am hoping for a fair fight that all the fans will enjoy, with the key word being 'enjoy'. That's what we are all here for, to enjoy moments like these."

Inside the Rod Laver Arena, the Bosnian and Serbian spectators were generally well behaved. But outside, around the garden square area of Melbourne Park, it was a different story.

About the Serbian tennis, see also International Herald Tribune

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