American tennis legend Billie Jean King wants to have her cake and eat it too.
The 16-time grand slam champion on Monday emerged as one of the loudest critics pouring scorn on defaulted tennis star Novak Djokovic following his dramatic exit from the US Open.
Djokovic was sensationally disqualified from the US Open for hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball.
Watch LIVE coverage of the US Open from the opening round to the finals with ESPN on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
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.
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.”
Some facts, however, are more factual than others — and some rules also appear more concrete than others.
That’s certainly the case in the social media storm created by King’s decision to go public with her declaration that tournament rules are sacrosanct and must be applied without emotion in each individual case.
It is a complete backflip on the position she so famously took when superstar Serena Williams was beaten by Naomi Osaka in the 2018 women’s US Open women’s final on the back of a third code violation and game penalty.
Williams called chair umpire Carlos Ramos a “thief” and a “liar” in a heated exchange that went on for some time as a result of her being penalised for receiving coaching advice from inside the stadium.
King at the time attacked the US Open officialdom and Ramos for implementing the rules without mercy — now she wants the opposite after posting on Twitter that Djokovic deserved to be kicked out of the tournament for his bizarre outburst.
“First I hope the line judge is okay. The rule is the rule,” she wrote.
“It is unfortunate for everyone involved, but in this specific situation the default was the right call.”
The Times’ tennis correspondent Stu Fraser responded: “You weren’t saying “the rule is the rule” when you were unfairly hammering Carlos Ramos a couple of years ago”.
In the space of less than 280 characters, Fraser had absolutely exposed Kings’ hypocrisy.
American media commentator John Ziegler also called out King.
“But when Serena was only penalized for purposely breaking her racquet (unlike this situation) after having already been warned, that was sexist/racist, right Billie Jean? All of those who claimed a man wouldn’t be treated like Serena was, please apologize. You have been exposed”.
King brought the issue of sex into the discussion 24 months ago when she was defending Williams’ emotional meltdown — saying the 24-time grand slam champion was punished for an action that would not have received a penalty if she were a male.
“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” King tweeted. “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.’ National Organization of Women president Toni Van Pelt weighed in with a statement calling for the USTA to sever any ties to Ramos for “a blatantly racist and sexist move”.
“Ramos claimed he was just following the rules, but in actuality men stretch the rules all the time and are lionized for being ‘bad boys’ while women are benched.”
Ramos said in the aftermath of the incredible controversy that he was in fact simply applying the rule book.
King was far from the only person to instantly declare Djokovic guilty of all charges without a second thought.
ESPN tennis commentator Brad Gilbert posted on Twitter: “Soon as he hit the line person that usually is instantly a default he definitely did not intend to do it, but you must take responsibility plain and simple He definitely deserved to be defaulted right away”.
On the flip side of the argument, some other tennis commentators believe Djokovic has received preferential media coverage to the way Williams was portrayed in 2018.
ESPN’s Danyal Rasool posted on Twitter: “The rule’s black and white, and after what happened 2 years ago with Serena-Osaka, it was obvious they’d have to enforce the rules again.
“Right decision then, right decision now.”
USA Today’s tennis expert Dan Wolken was also perfectly happy with the way the rules were strictly enforced for Djokovic.
“There’s absolutely no controversy about Djokovic getting defaulted out of the tournament Sunday after angrily smacking a ball that ended up striking a linesperson directly in the throat,” Wolken wrote.
“Though the ball’s destination was inadvertent, the act itself was clearly born out of Djokovic’s mounting frustration during his Round of 16 match against Pablo Carreno Busta.
From the moment the linesperson went down, the decision was straightforward. As the U.S. Tennis Association explained, “intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences” is right there in the rulebook. There was really no other choice.
“Historically speaking, it’s a moment of boneheadedness that will ripple across the sport.”
The New York Post’s Marc Berman, however, argues the decision to default Djokovic was a “small-minded” decision where officials failed to read the situation correctly.
He argued Djokovic’s forehand to the lines woman’s throat should not have been judged to the letter of the game’s laws.
“This disqualification isn’t good for tennis,” Berman wrote.
“A small-minded ruling won’t create new tennis fans. A rule was interpreted so narrowly and without the spirit of this unprecedented occasion — bouncing the world’s best player originally hesitant to fly to the U.S. because of the pandemic.
“Glad you came, Novak?”
The US Tennis Association released a statement saying Djokovic would be fined all prize money and lose all ranking points earned during the major.
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.