Novak Djokovic was sensationally disqualified from the US Open on Sunday after he struck a line official with a ball.
At the end of the 11th game of the round of 16 match, Djokovic’s serve was broken by Pablo Carreno Busta. The world No 1 went 5-6 down in the first set against the *20th seed from Spain when he hit a ball in the direction of the female official.
Djokovic appeared to be looking the other way when he pulled the ball from his pocket and smacked it in the direction of the official, it hitting her full toss in the throat.
The official he could be heard gasping on the broadcast. Djokovic rushed over to her to check if she was okay and placed his hand on her back as she struggled to breathe. After a few minutes she got up and walked off the court looking dazed.
Around ten minutes of discussions then ensued between Djokovic, chair umpire Aurelie Tourte, tournament referee Soeren Friemel and Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli, during which he pleaded his case.
The United States Tennis Association said Djokovic had been defaulted under the Grand Slam rules for “intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences.”
The body added that he would lose all ranking points and prize money from the tournament.
Referee Friemel said Djokovic told him he should not be defaulted because it was unintentional.
Friemel said he agreed there was no intent but that it was a clear-cut case of Djokovic hitting the ball “angrily and recklessly.”
“She was clearly hurt and in pain. There was no other option,” he told reporters.
Here’s the statement from organising body USTA:
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. 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.
Following the discussions with the tournament referee and a couple of other officials, the umpire declared that Carreno Busta had won by default.
After pleading his case for a while, Djokovic shook hands with the Spaniard and walked off the court. He was heard saying “game penalty, set penalty, [there are] many options” during that discussion.
A few points earlier, Djokovic had received medical attention after falling on his left shoulder during a point. And before that, he had another moment of frustration when he slammed the ball to the side of the court. That happened after Carreno Busta fought back from 0-40 down in his service game at 4-5 to save three set points.
With this default, Djokovic’s unbeaten run in 2020 has come to an end. He was bidding for an 18th Grand Slam title and had enjoyed a 26-0 start to this season during which he won the Australian Open.
Given Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were absent from the tournament and Djokovic getting knocked out in this manner, for the first time since US Open 2016, the men’s singles title winner will be a person other than the ‘Big Three’.
After the match, Djokovic went then directly to his car and left the Flushing Meadows site in New York without speaking to reporters.
Djokovic, 33, later posted an apology on Instagram saying he was “so sorry.”
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he wrote, adding that “thank God” the woman was okay.
“I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong,” Djokovic said.
He also apologized to tournament organizers for “my behavior” but did not say whether he thought they were right to default him.
Clarifications and corrections: The article originally mentioned Pablo Carreno Busta was unseeded at the US Open. He is the 20th seed. The error is regretted.
(With AFP inputs)