Violence boiled over at the Australian Open yesterday when dozens of Serbian and Bosnian fans fought after the match between Novak Djokovic and Amer Delic.
The two groups of youths — many wrapped in their national flags — had been sitting peacefully about 10m from each other in an outdoor courtyard, watching defending champion Djokovic of Serbia play Bosnian-born American Delic.
Excitement built in the tiebreaker, and Djokovic won 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to reach the fourth round.
Within moments, water bottles were flying both ways, followed quickly by plastic chairs.
Other spectators quickly scrambled away from the loud, angry scuffle but it took a couple of minutes for security and police to arrive.
One Bosnian woman was hit in the head by a chair and fell to the ground before stumbling away on the arms of friends as security officers and police intervened to break up the rivals. Victoria state police said the girl had only minor injuries and was not pursuing charges.
Those suspected of participating in the skirmish were led away by police, who took the Bosnians and Serbs to different areas for questioning.
“They started it. They threw the first chair and knocked our girl down and kept throwing things at her,” said a Bosnian man who was led away by police before he could identify himself.
One angry Serb teenager, who did not want to be identified, accused the Bosnians of bringing “weapons” such as a dart gun into the grounds, pointing to his friend’s wrist, which was bleeding from three puncture wounds.
Police Inspector Chris Duthie told reporters two men had been charged with riotous behavior and discharging a missile while another man had been fined on the spot.
“The matter was dealt with very quickly and effectively by the police and we expect no more problems,” Duthie said. “We have a very effective police presence here. You can’t stop everything happening but we will make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen [again].”
The Australian Open has been marred by a series of violent clashes since 150 Croat and Serb fans engaged in a brawl two years ago.
Last year, police used capsicum spray on a group of rowdy Greek supporters and just two days ago, two people were evicted after scuffling at a bar following a match between Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia.
There was a heavy police presence at yesterday’s center court match between Djokovic and Delic.
Delic said he was disappointed when told about the fighting.
“I’m really sad to hear about that,” he told a news conference after the match. “As I said a couple days ago, there’s absolutely no place for that here. This is a tennis match.”
Djokovic said he was unaware of the violence.
“I don’t think things got out of control today. I think actually we had a nice match,” Djokovic said.
“I was very happy with the way the Serbs and Bosnians were cheering, reacting on everything,” he said.
“We have big respect for each other, Amer and myself. We know each other for a long time. He’s a great guy.”
Australia has a large population of Balkan immigrants and sports events are occasionally used to display the ethnic rivalries.