US Open: Novak Djokovic told to go home after hitting line judge with a ball

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was sensationally disqualified in the US Open fourth round on Sunday after striking a line judge with a ball following a point during the first set of his match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

Djokovic was becoming frustrated on court after squandering three set points when Carreno Busta served at 4-5, 0-40, then suffering a fall. Having dropped serve to trail 5-6, he swatted a ball reasonably hard to the back of the court, inadvertently striking a female line judge in her throat.

With the line judge screaming out in pain as she fell to the ground, a horrified Djokovic ran over to her and apologised.

Tournament referee Soeren Friemel came out on to the Arthur Ashe Stadium and spoke to chair umpire Aurelie Tourte and Andreas Egli, the Grand Slam supervisor, before a long chat with the 33-year-old Serb, a three-time former US Open winner.

Djokovic was clearly making the point that he had not intended to hit the official and was overheard to say “she doesn’t have to go to hospital for this”.

After 12 minutes of pleading, Djokovic’s fate was sealed. The Grand Slam rules state: “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.

“The referee, in consultation with the Grand Slam chief of supervisors may declare a default for either a single violation of this code.”

Djokovic eventually walked over to shake hands with a stunned Carreno Busta and trudged off to face the music, although he later left the grounds in a black Tesla without attending a press conference.

He later posted an apology on Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

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. 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 apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. 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. Cela ova situacija me čini zaista tužnim i praznim. Proverio sam kako se oseća linijski sudija, i prema informacijama koje sam dobio, oseća se dobro, hvala Bogu. Njeno ime ne mogu da otkrijem zbog očuvanja njene privatnosti. Jako mi je žao što sam joj naneo takav stres. Nije bilo namerno. Bilo je pogrešno. Želim da ovo neprijatno iskustvo, diskvalifikaciju sa turnira, pretvorim u važnu životnu lekciju, kako bih nastavio da rastem i razvijam se kao čovek, ali i teniser. Izvinjavam se organizatorima US Opena. Veoma sam zahvalan svom timu i porodici što mi pružaju snažnu podršku, kao i mojim navijačima jer su uvek uz mene. Hvala vam i žao mi je. Bio je ovo težak dan za sve.

A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on

It was a shocking end to the top seed’s hopes of winning an 18th Grand Slam title and moving within two of the men’s record total won by Roger Federer — something that had looked increasingly likely as the fortnight progressed.

It also brought to an end Djokovic’s 26-0 winning run since the start of the year, albeit in bizarre circumstances.

The USTA issued a statement saying that Djokovic would lose all the ranking points earned from the event and will be fined the $250,000 — his prize money for reaching round four.

“It’s the right decision,” Tim Henman, who was disqualified from Wimbledon for a similar incident in 1995, told Amazon Prime. “He is not aiming for the line judge, but has hit the ball away and you have to be responsible for your actions.”

While the entire incident was unintentional, it still irked Tennis pundits and former champion Mats Wilander, who analysed the action for Eurosport, and said it was very unlucky for Djokovic but that it had been the correct decision.

“You are not allowed to do that,” he said. “It’s as much bad luck as you can have on a tennis court. He didn’t just roll the ball back to the ball kid, that’s the bottom line.

“He hit it harder than he intended to, obviously a complete accident. It was a sign of frustration, yes. A little bit. But it doesn’t matter, you are not allowed to do it.”

The Djokovic default joins a number of other key historical defaults in major events, including John McEnroe at the 1990 Australian Open, Tim Henman at Wimbledon in 1995 and Denis Shapovalov at the Davis Cup in 2017.

This situation has now incredibly blown the draw wide open, especially with defending champion Rafa Nadal and Federer absent in the tournament this year. Nadal opted not to travel to New York because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, while Federer’s absence was as a result of a knee surgery.

A world number one being defaulted sent shockwaves around Flushing Meadows which has witnessed many crazy events down the years, including two high-profile incidents involving Serena Williams, most recently in the 2018 final against Naomi Osaka when she was docked a game near the end.

Carreno Busta will now face a quarterfinal against either Denis Shapovalov or seventh seed David Goffin.

A tournament spokesman told Reuters the line judge ‘appears to be okay and was not brought off-site’.

Hqer identity is not known. Djokovic’s humiliating exit continues what has been a turbulent few months for him. He was criticised for organising the Adria Tour exhibition event in June in which he and several players were tested positive for COVID-19.

He then dropped a bombshell on the eve of the Open by announcing he had resigned as president of the ATP Player Council to front a new players’ association.

Djokovic will play in Rome after the U.S. Open and his next chance to win a major will come at the French Open beginning Sept. 27. Nadal has won that event 12 times.

No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem, a runner-up to Djokovic at the Australian Open, and No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, the runner-up to Nadal at last year’s Open, become the favorites in New York.

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