There are two parts to the swirling counter-argument from some tennis commentators that Novak Djokovic was unlucky to find himself defaulted from the US Open — one is legitimate, one is not.
The World No. 1 struck a lineswoman in the throat when he struck a forehand to the back of the court in frustration when he went behind 5-6 in the first set of his fourth round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
It was an instinctive tension easer, something the 33-year-old has done habitually throughout his career — only this time his luck ran out.
Seething at losing a service game and appearing to injure his shoulder, anger and adrenaline surged through Djokovic uncontrollably.
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Nothing more than a flick of the wrists — but enough to find himself disqualified.
The apparent casualness to the stroke combined with the fact he was walking away and not even looking in the direction of the woman has led some to argue the force behind the action was not enough to warrant his ejection from the tournament.
It is a completely irrelevant view, considering the rules for the tournament could not be clearer on the issue.
“Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site,” the tournament rule book states.
One of the “penalties” on offer includes a default.
The fact the lineswoman could be heard gasping for breath as she tried to recover after collapsing to the court is also irrelevant. The ball only needed to touch her for the door to be opened for Djokovic’s tournament default.
Tennis commentators have even poked fun at the site of the woman collapsing after being hit in the neck.
Australian shock jock and former Footy Show host Sam Newman wrote on Twitter: “Really? Woman hit by Djokovic ball went down like some of the umps we were used to seeing in AFL. Probably would have had to argue her case she overacted if she’d gone before our match tribunal”.
He was far from alone.
The crushing blow for Djokovic is that he was prepared for this day — but continued to play the odds.
He flippantly dismissed the issue of him throwing racquets and hitting balls in anger around the court when asked about it in 2016.
In 2018 at the French Open, he narrowly avoided a monster controversy when he tossed his racquet towards an linesman — who jumped aside with an instinctive reflexes.
With the risk of hitting someone so small, Djokovic was always been prepared to play the odds.
This time he paid the price.
“You guys are unbelievable,” he said frustratedly in 2016 when asked about hitting balls into the back wall on court.
“Because you are always picking on these kind of things. It’s incredible.
“I keep doing these kind of things? Why don’t I get suspended then?
“It’s not an issue for me. It’s not the first time that I did it.”
It is however, the first time Novak Djokovic has played a grand slam in the middle of a pandemic.
The first time he has played a grand slam where lines officials have been replaced by Hawk-Eye technology on outside courts across the Flushing Meadows site.
Hawk-Eye Live technology is being used at the US Open for the first time — and has seen linesmen and lineswomen removed from every court other than the two largest show courts Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium.
As the World No. 1 in an event where many of the sports biggest names — including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios — are missing, it is unlikely Djokovic was ever going to be forced out to the Grandstand court or Court 17, but the fact remains had he been playing on any other surface at Flushing Meadows, his forehand would have struck the back of the court harmlessly.
That is just bad luck.
And the tennis fraternity agrees with him.
Sheer dumb luck — but enough to warrant his disqualification.
“I don’t think anyone of us do this intentionally. It’s just the moment. It was bad luck,” Carreno Busta said after the match.
“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.”
Canadian rising star Denis Shapovalov said on Monday: “First of all, it’s super unfortunate for everybody.
“I’ve been in that situation so I know how Novak is feeling. Of course he had no intentions to go after the lineswoman. Thankfully she’s OK.
“It’s just super unfortunate for everybody.
“Hopefully Novak can just shake it off and move on. Of course, he needs to grow and learn from this. But it’s super, super unlucky as well. The ball could have went anywhere. It’s just super unfortunate.”
But as the rules make clear, luck has nothing to do with it.