Australian Open bans Russian, Belarusian flags after 'incident'

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tennis Australia banned Russian and Belarusian flags at the Australian Open after a Russian flag spotted hanging courtside during Monday's first-round match between Ukraine's Kateryna Baindl and Russia's Kamilla Rakhimova sparked controversy.

"Flags from Russia and Belarus are banned onsite at the Australian Open," Tennis Australia said in a statement on Tuesday. "Our initial policy was that fans could bring them in but could not use them to cause disruption. Yesterday we had an incident where a flag was placed courtside.

"The ban is effective immediately. We will continue to work with the players and our fans to ensure the best possible environment to enjoy the tennis."

The red, white and blue striped Russian flag was hung on a fence behind Court 14 on Monday afternoon at Melbourne Park.

Baindl ended up winning the match in three sets to advance to the second round of the tournament.

The act drew the ire of Ukraine's ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, who called on Tennis Australia to ban the flag at the tournament.

"I strongly condemn the public display of the Russian flag during the game of the Ukrainian tennis player Kateryna Baindl at the Australian Open today," Myroshnychenko wrote on Twitter. "I call on Tennis Australia to immediately enforce its 'neutral flag' policy."

Another Russian flag 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 on Monday night.

Russian and Belarusian players are able to compete in this year's Australian Open, but they are unable to do so under their flag or country's name -- a common practice in world sport since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Last year, players from these nations were banned from competing at Wimbledon, which forced the sport's governing bodies to strip the tournament of its ranking points.

Asked about the new flag ban, Belarusian player Aryna Sabalenka said after her first-round victory Tuesday that she would prefer that politics and sports remain separate, but she understands the decision by Tennis Australia.

"I mean, if everyone feels better this way, then it's OK,'' said Sabalenka, a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist who is seeded No. 5 at Melbourne Park. "I have zero control on it. What can I say? They did it. OK. No flags? No flags.''

On Monday, Ukraine's second-ranked player Marta Kostyuk claimed she would not shake hands with players from either Russia or Belarus due to her belief that they had not done enough to speak out against the invasion of her nation.

"I don't really talk to anyone," Kostyuk said of her Russian and Belarusian peers. "I barely say 'hi' to them.

"I haven't changed about the war and everything that's going on, on tour. Because people who just say they don't want war, it makes us [Ukraine] sound like we want war. Obviously, we don't want the war too."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.