Russia, Belarus flags banned at Aussie Open

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MELBOURNE—Flags from Russia and Belarus were banned from the site of the Australian Open on Tuesday after more than one was brought into the stands by spectators on Day 1 of the year›s first Grand Slam tournament.

Normally, flags can be displayed during matches at Melbourne Park. But Tennis Australia reversed that policy for the two countries involved in the invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a year ago.

“Our initial policy was that fans could bring (flags) in but could not use them to cause disruption,” Tennis Australia said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure that this is the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis.”

One Russian flag was displayed during Ukrainian player Kateryna Baindl’s 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-1 victory over Russian player Kamilla Rakhimova on Court 14 in the first round on Monday.

Another was offered to Russian player Daniil Medvedev to autograph after his 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 win over Marcos Giron in Rod Laver Arena.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus were barred from competing at Wimbledon and team events such as the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup last year because of the war in Ukraine. Russia invaded, with help from Belarus, in February.

Russian and Belarusian players have been allowed to enter the other three Grand Slam tournaments but as “neutral” athletes, so their nationalities are not acknowledged on any official schedules or results for the event and their countries’ flags are not displayed on TV graphics.

Andrey Rublev, meanwhile, beat wild-card entry Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, on Tuesday to book his place in the second round of the Australian Open.

Thiem, a runner-up at the Australian Open in 2020 and the US Open winner the same year, missed much of 2021 due to injuries but has recovered from outside the top 350 last year to a place just inside the top 100. He was given a wild-card entry by tournament organizers.

“When you see you have to play against Dominic you know it’s not going to be easy. I know he’s going through some not easy times so I wish him all the best to come back to the level he can be as fast as possible,” Rublev said.

Rublev will now play either the Australian qualifier Max Purcell or Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland.

No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka maintained her unbeaten start to the year with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Tereza Martincova. Sabalenka, who won the Adelaide International title in the first week of the year, hit 29 winners to her opponent’s seven as she won her fifth consecutive match.

“It wasn’t that easy, I’m super-happy to start with the win,” said Sabalenka, who will play American Shelby Rogers in the second round. “I have to work on my mindset and stay calm and not get too upset when I make mistakes. I really believe this is the only thing missing in my game.”

Sabalenka, who has yet to win a Grand Slam singles title, hasn’t made it past the fourth round at the Australian Open in five previous visits.

Garbine Muguruza, the runner-up in Melbourne in 2020, lost her fifth consecutive match to start the year when she was beaten 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-1 by Elise Mertens.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza served for the match at 6-5 in the second set.

Taylor Townsend won her first Grand Slam match since becoming a mother, beating Diane Parry, a wild-card entry from France, 6-1, 6-1. The American will next meet Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Leylah Fernandez, the former US Open runner-up, beat Alize Cornet, 7-5, 6-2. Martina Trevisan, seeded 21st, was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. AP

Image credits: AP

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