Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his U.S. Open fourth-round match after he accidentally hit a linesperson with a ball he struck after a point.
Djokovic, trailing Spainiard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-5 in the first set, hit a ball to the back of his side of the court, angry after having his serve broken. That ball struck a linesperson in the neck area, and the linesperson dropped to the court, holding their throat among yelping more than 10 times in decreasing intensity.
Djokovic was defaulted “in accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook” for “intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences,” according to the U.S. Tennis Association.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” was posted on Djokovic’s Instagram nearly three hours later. “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 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.”
Djokovic swung to hit the ball underhand without directly looking where it was going. When he realized where it went, he looked concerned, put out his left hand and went over to help the linesperson. The linesperson got up and walked off about two minutes after being struck.
A discussion including Djokovic and officials continued regarding his penalty.
“Whatever call you make, it’s tough, I understand,” Djokovic said to an official. “It could be a game penalty. It could be a set penalty. You have many options. … You have to evaluate the situation. You cannot just default like that. … You choose to default for this situation that happened to me first time. … My career, Grand Slam, center stage.”
“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,” tournament referee Soeren Friemel, who made the decision to end the match, said, according to The Associated Press. “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.”
Eleven minutes after the ball strike, Djokovic walked toward Carreno Busta, shook his hand, acknowledged the chair umpire and walked off the court. It was announced that he was defaulted. Djokovic left the New York tournament site without speaking to media.
“The rules are the rules,” Carreno Busta said when asked if he thought Djokovic should have been defaulted. “These kind of things never likes. The referee and the supervisor do the right thing, but is not easy to do it, no?”
HOLY CRAP. Djokovic defaulted after he inadvertently hits a ball and strikes a line judge in the neck. She had to leave. pic.twitter.com/BECdydrKFw
— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) September 6, 2020
— ESPN (@espn) September 6, 2020
There is precedent. At Wimbledon in 1995, Brit Tim Henman accidentally hit a ball girl with a ball, causing he and doubles partner Jeremy Bates to be defaulted. In 2017, Canadian Denis Shapovalov was defaulted from a Davis Cup match after he inadvertently hit the chair umpire in the head with a ball.
“Novak was angry. He hit the ball recklessly, angrily back. And taking everything into consideration, there was no discretion involved,” Friemel said, according to the AP. “Defaulting a player at a Grand Slam is a very important, very tough decision. And for that reason, it doesn’t matter if it’s on Ashe, if it’s No. 1, or any other player on any other court, you need to get it right.”
Djokovic had been 26-0 in 2020. He was the last man left in the draw who owns a Grand Slam singles title. Roger Federer (injured) and Rafael Nadal (opting not to travel during the pandemic) did not enter the tournament.
Now, there will be a first-time male Grand Slam singles champion for the first time in six years. And the first male Grand Slam singles champion born in the 1990s or 2000s.
The top seeds remaining are Nos. 2 and 3 Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev on the bottom half of the draw. The top half — Djokovic’s half — includes No. 5 Alexander Zverev.
Djokovic owns 17 Grand Slam singles titles, trailing only Federer (20) and Nadal (19). Nadal can tie Federer’s record if he wins a record-extending 13th title at the French Open, which begins in two weeks.
This U.S. Open will mark the first Slam without any of Djokovic, Federer or Nadal in the semifinals since the 2004 French Open. Those semifinalists were Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, David Nalbandian and Henman.
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