MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A pro-Palestinian protester threw papers onto an Australian Open court and briefly disrupted a match between Alexander Zverev and Cameron Norrie on Monday before being stopped by other spectators.
Olympic champion Zverev said he didn't feel unsafe but questioned why it took several minutes for security to react, leaving it to tennis fans to intervene.
“When something like this happens, it shouldn’t be another fan dragging the other person out,” he said, noting that security at Melbourne Park was usually very tight, including for the players. “It should be the security guys ... there quite quickly.”
Protesters threw anti-war pamphlets onto at least two courts and also near the entrance to the tournament site.
At Zverev's match, a woman wearing a face mask threw anti-war pamphlets from the stands onto the court behind the baseline during the sixth game of the third set on Margaret Court Arena.
Printed in black on the white pages was the message “Free Palestine” and "While you're watching tennis bombs are dropping on Gaza."
Ball kids gathered up the papers and the match continued after security escorted the protester away.
Zverev won the match 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (3) to advance to a quarterfinal against No. 2-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.
Norrie, who was serving in the game that was halted, also said he didn't feel threatened.
“Those things happen nowadays,” he said. "There were a couple of fans that actually helped out. But yeah, I don’t think anyone felt threatened or anything.
“It was all right. I managed to hold my serve that game, so yeah.”
Tennis Australia confirmed two spectators stopped the protester on Margaret Court Arena “and we appreciate their actions.”
“Venue security was deployed (and) the individual was subsequently evicted from the event,” organizers said in a statement. “Anyone seeking to disrupt the event — as we saw tonight — will be removed.”
In a statement, Victoria state police said officers were notified that a small group of people threw pamphlets onto Margaret Court Arena, Kia Arena and elsewhere on the tournament site.
Police said two women, aged 35 and 36, were detained but released without charge.
Zverev said he wasn't aware what the protest was about until he was told at a news conference.
“There’s obviously a lot going on in the world and a lot of quite bad things happen. I understand some people are frustrated,” he said. “Of course, a tennis match has nothing particularly to do with it.”
Zverev said security was so tight for players that he'd been stopped while trying to access the gym from the locker room without his accreditation.
“On-site where the players’ area is, is extremely strict,” he said. "Even today, I played obviously five sets, four hours. They wouldn’t let me into the gym because I forgot my credential in the locker room.
“What are you doing? You’re protecting players from players? That’s not really the whole point. Something like this happens and it takes three, four minutes for somebody to show up.”
A group behind the protest said pro-Palestinian activists stopped play on multiple courts by dropping the pamphlets and playing loud audio of bombs dropping in Gaza.
The Israel-Hamas war began with Hamas’ attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 250 hostages back to Gaza.
The Palestinian death toll from the war has soared past 25,000, the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said Sunday.
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis