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Violent clashes taint action at Open

VIOLENCE again boiled over at the Australian Open yesterday when dozens of Serbian and Bosnian fans fought after the match between Novak Djokovic and Amer Delic.

Ethnic Serbs and Bosnians hurled chairs at each other and exchanged kicks and punches in riotous scenes after Serb champion Djokovic's 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 victory over Bosnian-born Delic to reach the last 16.

Groups of rival fans fought battles in the beer garden outside centre court when simmering tension boiled over under the hot Melbourne sun.

One woman was knocked cold when a chair struck her head.

Police arrested two men and ejected another 30 people from the grounds after the rival supporters traded punches and kicks. The fight spilled outside the stadium before police got it under control.

"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)," police inspector Chris Duthie told reporters.

Tensions between rival ethnic factions from the former Yugoslavia have become an unfortunate feature at the season's opening grand slam - once dubbed the Happy Slam. Two years ago 150 fans were ejected after violent brawling at the tournament.

The tension had been rising all week, reflected in minor incidents of rowdiness at matches and Delic had appealed on his Website for calm, but to no avail.

"I'm really sad to hear about that," Delic said. "There's absolutely no place for that here. This is a tennis match. As I'm sure you all saw at the end, I mean, Novak and I are friends.

"We're both competitors, obviously. In the end it was a fair match, and there was no reason for such things," he said.

"There's only so much we can say. You can't stop and control everybody. Somebody gets drunk, you know, they want to cause trouble. It happens."

Djokovic said he was unaware of the violent clashes but added it was not up to the players to stop them.

"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.

"We have big respect for each other, Amer and myself. We know each other for a long time. He's a great guy."

One angry Serb teenager, who did not want to be identified and wrapped his flag around his head to avoid the television cameras, 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. The Australian Open organizers had no comments.


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