A woman with a Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders was kicked out of a match between two Russian players during qualifying for the Cincinnati Masters over the weekend.
Anna Kalinskaya defeated Anastasia Potapova 7-5, 6-1 in the clash but the controversy erupted when one of the players complained about a woman in the crowd who had a flag and a Ukrainian floral wreath crown known as a vinok, and she was asked to leave the venue.
It comes as the Russian invasion of Ukraine nears its six-month anniversary.
“This is not Russia,” she told Local 12 News. “This is United States of America.”
While Russian and Belarusian players were banned from playing certain tournaments, most notably Wimbledon, or representing the Russian flag, several Ukrainian players were forced to flee their homes or choose to stay and fight.
The woman, who tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg identified as a local resident named Lola, was silently watching the match when the incident happened.
Despite sitting there silently, umpire Morgane Lara confronted Lola and said it was “not nice” to sit with the flag.
“You’re not being nice. You need to put the flag away,’” she told Local 12. “The message I got was that it is agitating Russian players. I said, ‘I’m not putting it away.’ They kept playing f or a minute or two. Then, they stopped the game again, and then the security guard came up to me and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m going to call the cops if you won’t leave.”
Rothenberg then tweeted saying a security marshal “then became aggressive with Lola, telling her that she had to leave the court or he would call the police”.
He added: “Other spectators nearby at Court 8 quickly came to Lola’s defense, saying she wasn’t doing anything wrong or saying anything disruptive. She was just sitting there with her flag. They mentioned free speech, ‘land of the free’, etc, but the marshal was unmoved.”
Lola reportedly left of her own volition and walked the ground but was approached by the tournament’s head of security who told her the flag was too big.
“Per the Western & Southern Open’s bag policy, as stated on the tournament’s website, flags or banners larger than 18 x 18 are prohibited” a tournament spokesman told Reuters
“Therefore, the patron was asked to remove the flag from the grounds and after doing so was allowed to remain at the tournament. Any inquiries about the chair umpire should be directed to the WTA Tour.”
Rothenberg even reported Lola had considered cutting her flag down to size but was escorted to her car where she was told to store the flag and was then allowed to return to the tournament grounds.
Retired Ukrainian tennis star Alexandr Dolgopolov took to Twitter to rage over the incident.
“To all the people who admired my tennis and planning to visit the US tournaments, I ask to bring a Ukraine flag to all russian or bellorusian matches they watch. And I dare the @atptour @WTA to try this step again. Repost please,” Dolgopolov wrote.
“Our country is drowning in blood and barbaric violence, no Russian will bully a silent supporter wearing a Ukraine flag! Have some respect. P.s- keep the flags in the policy requirement, so they have no ‘fairy tale’ reason to ask you to leave.”
It’s unlikely to be the last protest of the US swing as Russian and Belarusian players will play at the US Open under a neutral flag.
Former Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky condemned the US Open decision when it was revealed in June.
“I salute Wimbledon, the only entity which has a moral code,” he said.