World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic has been sensationally disqualified from the US Open for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball.
The frustrated tournament favourite had just fallen behind 5-6 in the first set of his fourth round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta when he hit a ball in the direction of the female official.
It struck her in the throat and she could be heard gasping.
Djokovic held up his hand in apology, then walked over to check she was OK and after a few minutes she got up and walked off the court.
Following around 10 minutes of discussions with the tournament referee, the umpire declared that Carreno Busta had won by default.
“I don’t think anyone of us do this intentionally. It’s just the moment. It was bad luck,” the Spaniard said.
“Of course you can’t do this. The rules are the rules. The referee and the supervisor do the right thing but it isn’t easy to make this decision.”
The astonishing incident occurred after the first set took a grim turn for Djokovic. He fell over during a service game and appeared to hurt his shoulder, then was facing three break points.
The 33-year-old saved the first but was eventually broken, prompting him to hit a ball behind him in anger. Djokovic wasn’t looking where he was aiming and the lineswoman never saw the ball coming until it was too late.
Reports emerged suggesting Djokovic said: “She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this.
“You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage?”
Tournament referee Soeren Friemel said later: “His point was that he didn’t hit the line umpire intentionally. He said, ‘Yes, I was angry. I hit the ball. I hit the line umpire. The facts are very clear. But it wasn’t my intent. I didn’t do it on purpose’.
“So he said he shouldn’t be defaulted for it.
“And we all agree that he didn’t do it on purpose, but the facts are still that he hit the line umpire and the line umpire was clearly hurt.”
DJOKOVIC SAYS SORRY
Nearly three hours after his indiscretion, Djokovic took to Instagram to apologise for his outburst.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK,” he wrote.
“I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy.
“As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being. I apologise to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour.
“I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry.”
KYRGIOS RESPONDS AS TENNIS WORLD REACTS
BBC tennis commentator Gigi Salmon said: “He wasn’t looking, he didn’t hit it very hard, but it hit the line judge in the throat.
“Unquestionably he should have been defaulted. They shouldn’t have discussed it for as long as they did. You cannot do that.
“At your age, at your stage, with what you’re trying to do — you know better than anybody in the sport that you do not do that.
“It was accidental, but it doesn’t matter. This is your office. It’s your place of work.”
Rivals and former players reacted with shock after the disqualification. Germany’s Alexander Zverev had words of sympathy for Djokovic, describing the disqualification as “very unfortunate”.
“He hit a tennis ball. It’s very unfortunate that, you know, he hit the line judge, and especially where it hit her,” Zverev said.
“There is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job. Very unlucky for Novak.
“He’s going to be a little bit upset about it. If he would have hit it anywhere else, if it would have landed anywhere else, we are talking about a few inches, he would have been fine.”
It didn’t take long for Aussie Nick Kyrgios, a vocal critic of Djokovic, to respond on Twitter.
Former women’s world No. 1 Tracy Austin said the disqualification was justified.
“Right call! Stunning to watch this unfold. Hope lines person OK …#crazyturnofevents,” Austin wrote on Twitter.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted: “First I hope the line judge is okay. The rule is the rule. It is unfortunate for everyone involved, but in this specific situation the default was the right call.”
Sports Illustrated tennis writer Jon Wertheim said Djokovic deserved to be defaulted for his “indefensible act”.
The US Tennis Association released a statement saying Djokovic would be fined all prize money and lose all ranking points earned during the major.
“In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open,” the statement read.
“Because he was defaulted Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”
It means Djokovic will lose the $AUD340,000 in prize money pocketed by players who qualify for the fourth round.
WHAT THE RULES ARE
The “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” section of the grand slam rulebook reads: “Players shall at all times conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner and give due regard to the authority of officials and the rights of opponents, spectators and others.
“In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of the tournament, or are singularly egregious, a single violation of this Section shall also constitute the Major Offence of ‘Aggravated Behaviour’ and shall be subject to the additional penalties hereinafter set forth.
“For the purposes of this Rule, Unsportsmanlike Conduct is defined as any misconduct by a player that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.”
The grand slam rules also state: “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.”
One of the “penalties” on offer includes a default.
“The referee in consultation with the Grand Slam Chief of Supervisors may declare a default for either a single violation of this code or pursuant to the Point Penalty Schedule set out above,” the rulebook reads.
“In all cases of default, the decision of the Referee in consultation with the Grand Slam Chief of Supervisors shall be final and unappealable.”
As tennis commentator Nick McCarvel pointed out on Twitter, it appears officials determined Djokovic’s sin “was a 1. flagrant and 2. injurious action”.
Retired ATP Tour vice president Gayle David Bradshaw told the New York Times players can be defaulted for “hitting a ball or throwing a racket without intent to harm” if someone on court is injured.
“In this case, there was no intent, but there was harm, and the officials had no choice but to do what they did,” he said.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR TENNIS
Djokovic is one of only a handful of players to be disqualified from a men’s singles tournament at a Grand Slam since John McEnroe was infamously tossed from the Australian Open in 1990.
The Serbian was the red-hot favourite to win this year’s US Open and claim his 18th career grand slam title, which would see him close in further on Rafael Nadal (19) and all-time men’s record holder Roger Federer (20).
Federer and Nadal are both absent from New York for the tournament, which is being played in a bio-secure bubble without crowds because of COVID-19. Other top stars also chose not to compete in the grand slam because of health concerns, so it was the perfect opportunity for Djokovic to add another trophy to his cabinet.
Things were on course as he cruised through the first three matches, only dropping one set to Britain’s Kyle Edmund in the second round. But his incredible brain snap means he only has himself to blame for not having the opportunity to hoist up some silverware on Arthur Ashe Stadium for the fourth time in his career.
Djokovic was also unbeaten in 2020 until today’s meltdown.
His disqualification marks an extremely significant development in men’s tennis for another reason, because we will see a first-time grand slam winner for the first time since Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open.
The big three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have dominated the circuit for so long, sharing the last 13 majors between them. Stan Wawrinka (three grand slam titles) and Andy Murray (three grand slam titles) have chimed in occasionally over the past decade but for the most part it’s been impossible for anyone else to break through.
That will finally change at Flushing Meadows this year. World No. 3 Dominic Thiem, world No. 5 Daniil Medvedev and world No. 7 Alexander Zverev — and Australia’s Alex De Minaur — will all be eyeing off their debut major trophy now Djokovic has opened up the path for them.
Do you think the disqualification was fair? Join the conversation in the comments below