Russian player Karen Khachanov made a political statement at the 2023 Australian Open following his third and fourth-round wins at Melbourne Park, which has not gone over well with a certain part of the world.
After winning his third-round match against American Frances Tiafoe, Khachanov took to the camera lens and wrote, "Artsakh Stay Strong!!!." After his fourth-round win against Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka, meanwhile, he wrote, "Keep believing all the way until the end !!! Artsakh, stay strong!!!"
Artsakh is a breakaway state whose territory is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The 2022-2023 blockade of the Artsakh region is an ongoing issue between the country of Azerbaijan and the the Republic of Artsakh, where Artsakh's only connecting road to the world and Azerbaijan was blocked by the citizens of Azerbaijan.
Artsakh is very closely integrated with Armenia and in many ways functions as a de facto part of Armenia. More than 99% of the population is Armenian, holding both linguistic and religious similarities to Armenia as well.
Khachanov's support for the Republic of Artsakh, therefore, has led to Armenian fans around the globe flocking to his support. The 26-year-old has been well received at the Australian Open ever since his political stance, with fans waving the Artsakh flag proudly during his matches at the Melbourne Major.
However, Karen Khachanov's support has not gone down well with the Azerbaijan Tennis Association (FTA). On 21 January 2023, the FTA issued a statement condemning Khachanov's actions. They are appealing to the ITF (International Tennis Federation) to take drastic measures against Khachanov.
"Writing heartfelt wishes on the camera lens is a kind of tradition in tennis, but Khachanov abused this, using it in his dirty plans. The FTA condemns such incidents, demanding that the ITF punsih Khachanov and take drastic measures so that similar instances do not recur," the statement read. "We hope this issue will find its objective solution soon."
During his press conference at the Australian Open after sealing his spot in the semifinals, Karen Khachanov was asked what he understands regarding the region and why he feels it's important to highlight the issue. Having Armenian roots himself, the 26-year-old declared that he was not worried about negative remarks against him and that he just wanted to show his support to his people.
" I say many times. I have Armenian roots. From my father's side, from my grandfather's side, even from my mom's side. I'm half Armenian. To be honest, I don't want to go deeper than that, and I just wanted to show strength and support to my people. That's it." Karen Kachanov replied.
Karen Khachanov through to the 2023 Australian Open semifinals as Sebastian Korda bows out due to an injury
Karen Khachanov is through to his second Major semifinal after American Sebastian Korda retired from the quarterfinal match on Tuesday with the score at 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-0 in favor of the Russian. He previously booked a semifinal spot at the 2022 US Open where he fell to Norway's Casper Ruud in four sets.
During his on-court interview after his quarterfinal match, the Russian urged the crowd to applaud Korda's efforts throughout the tournament, where he took down Khachanov's friend and countryman Daniil Medvedev in straight sets and Polish player Hubert Hurkacz in an epic five-set match.
Ranked 20 in the world, the Russian now awaits the winner of the clash between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jiri Lehecka. The semifinal, which will take place on Friday (27 January) will be Khachanov's first Australian Open semifinal match.