W&S Open officials threatened to call police on woman draped in Ukrainian flag

A Russian player complained about the woman, who was sitting quietly during the match on Sunday, according to multiple accounts.
A spectator at the Cincinnati Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio wears a Ukrainian flag...
A spectator at the Cincinnati Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio wears a Ukrainian flag at a qualifier match between two Russian players on Sunday, Aug. 15.(WXIX)
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 6:18 PM EDT
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MASON, Ohio (WXIX) - Video has surfaced online of an incident at the Western and Southern Open showing officials confront a woman draped in a Ukrainian flag.

The incident has drawn attention and criticism across the tennis world, due in part to the tournament’s status as one of the top events on the tennis calendar. Ben Rothenberg, a well known tennis journalist formerly with the New York Times, witnessed the incident first-hand and later accused the tournament of making a “clear misstep” in how it handled things.

FOX19 obtained video showing part of the incident. The person who took and posted the video says Rothenberg’s account is “exactly” correct. “It was quite the situation,” they said.

The woman, a Mason resident whom Rothenberg identifies as “Lola,” sat in the stands Sunday afternoon for a qualifying match between Russian tennis players Anna Kalinskaya and Anastasia Potapova.

Lola wore a Ukrainian flag and a Ukrainia floral wreath crown called a “vinok.” Rothenberg claims, and the video poster confirms, Lola watched the match silently without saying a word.

At some point in the first set, one of the players complained to the WTA chair umpire about Lola. It isn’t clear which player complained, though Kalinskaya reportedly spoke out against the war a tournament earlier this year.

The umpire got down from her chair and confronted Lola, allegedly telling her it was “not nice” to be sitting with the flag. Lola allegedly responded it was “not nice to invade a country,” per Rothenberg.

A tournament security marshal arrived on court and “became aggressive with Lola, telling her that she had to leave the court or he would call the police,” Rothernberg said. “The [marshal] was more rude than the chair ump,” the video poster affirmed.

Lola then got up and left the court, purportedly because, per Rothenberg, she did not want to “create a scene.” She then took to walking around the grounds, but a half-hour later, the tournament head of security approached her.

The security head told Lola she had to get rid of the flag, not because a player had complained, but because it was above the regulation size of 18x18″. Rothenberg says the official escorted her to the parking lot, “where he had told her she could store the offending Ukrainian flag in her car. She was then allowed to return to the grounds.”

Asked for comment, a tournament spokesperson referred FOX19 to the bag policy on the stadium’s website noting flags and banners larger than 18x18″ are prohibited. “Therefore,” the spokesperson said, “the patron was asked to remove the flag from the grounds and after doing so was allowed to remain at the tournament.”

We reached out asking if this is a new policy for 2022 but have not heard back as of this writing. As Rothenberg notes, regular tournament attendees can attest to the prevalence of flags at matches involving players from Switzerland, Australia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Argentina and more. An Associated Press photo (below) shows a fan with one such flag at a Novak Djokovic match in 2015.

“Tennis has not been consistent in how it has handled issues regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as we know, both in terms of policies and in symbolic displays of support,” Rothenberg concluded referencing Wimbledon’s controversial decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players. “But this incident, I believe, is a clear misstep.”

The WTA has not returned request for comment.

A fan holds a Serbian flag as he waits for Novak Djokovic's autograph after Djokovic defeated...
A fan holds a Serbian flag as he waits for Novak Djokovic's autograph after Djokovic defeated Benoit Paire, of France, in a match at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Mason, Ohio. Djokovic won 7-5, 6-2. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)(John Minchillo | AP)

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