Russian tennis star Karen Khachanov insists he has not been told by officials at the Australian Open to stop writing messages on camera lenses after being accused of a "hateful act" at Melbourne Park. Khachanov progressed to the semi-finals of the grand slam on Tuesday after victory over the injured Sebastian Korda, with the American retiring in the third set while trailing 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 3-0.
Khachanov has Armenian heritage and provided several nods to his family roots by writing messages of support for the European country on the camera lenses after his wins at the Australian Open. The 26-year-old has written post-match messages such as "Stay strong" and "Keep believing until the very end. Artsakh, hold on!".
'ARE YOU PITCHING': Tsitsipas called out over Margot Robbie comment
'CLASSLESS': Jelena Ostapenko under fire over 'terrible' gesture
The Russian is expressing his support for the people of Artsakh, who are enduring a month-long blockade by Azerbaijan. Artsakh is known as a breakaway state in the South Caucasus, whose territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan. The contested enclave is home to the Lachin corridor, which represents the only overland access route to Armenia.
"I have Armenian roots from my father's side, from my grandfather's side, even from my mum's side - I'm half Armenian," Khachanov told reporters after the quarter-final. "I just wanted to show strength and support to my people. That's it."
Khachanov's actions have infuriated Azerbaijan though, with officials from the country condemning his actions and demanding the Russian be punished. The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation took aim at the 26-year-old in a strongly worded statement about his messages and urged the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to reprimand him.
"Karen Khachanov... attracted attention with his hateful act," the organisation said in a statement. "The Azerbaijan Tennis Federation letter presented facts and legal documents regarding the provocation against Azerbaijan.
"The ATF condemned this act and demanded the tennis player be punished and urged the (ITF) to take harsh measures for prevention of such incidents in the future."
The 18th seed insists he has not been told by any officials at the Australian Open to stop writing the messages. "I didn't hear anything about that ... so far, no," he revealed.
Khachanov said the injury to his quarter-final opponent Korda was not the way he'd hoped to book his spot in the last-four at Melbourne Park. However, the Russian is feeling confident ahead of a blockbuster semi-final showdown with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who trounced Czech surprise packet, Jiri Lehecka 6-3 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 later on Tuesday night.
"Back-to-back semi-finals in a grand slam feels great," said 18th-seeded Khachanov after his win. "It's obviously not the way you want to finish a match and I think until a certain point it was very competitive and a good battle.
"Sebastian beat one of my friends, Daniil (Medvedev) in three sets, and five sets against (Hubert) Hurkacz, so you know he's playing great tennis. I'm feeling good and really happy about my level and the way I compete and looking forward to semi-finals here in Australia for the first time."
Stefanos Tsitsipas in close call with ball kid
Khachanov's semi-final opponent Tsitsipas came perilously close to being defaulted on Tuesday night after hitting a ball in anger and nearly connecting with a ball kid. Tsitsipas was called out for his 'dangerous' actions in the third set after losing a point and whacking a ball at the back wall.
He didn't realise a ball kid had started moving towards the ball, and it nearly connected with the youngster. In the end the ball didn't come too close to hitting the ball kid, but the match nearly ended in disaster for Tsitsipas.
All in all, it was a rare scare for the third seed in a dominant performance that suggests he might be the biggest threat to Novak Djokovic claiming a record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park.
Tsitsipas has fallen three times at the semi-final stage at Melbourne Park - including the previous two years - but insists he's a "different player" this time around. Asked if he believes this could finally be his year, the 24-year-old said: "I'm feeling great with my tennis. I don't think I felt so good in a long time.
"I will definitely say yes to it. I've said it, I'm a different player, playing different. My mentality is different. When I'm out on the court, I don't really think of negatives, to be honest. I just go out there and play the game."
The Greek's best grand slam so far is a French Open final appearance in 2021, where he fell to Djokovic in five sets after winning the first two. Tsitsipas will become World No.1 if he wins the title at Melbourne Park.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.