Djokovic is thrown out of US Open
Serb exits for hitting ball in anger that strikes lineswoman Henman accuses world No 1 of running away afterwards
Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, was sensationally defaulted from the US Open last night after striking a ball in anger that hit a line judge. The lineswoman fell to the ground on all fours after the ball struck her in the throat.
The incident happened late in the first set of Djokovic’s fourthround match against Pablo Carreno Busta, of Spain. Only a few minutes earlier he had fallen heavily and jarred a shoulder, and he was suffering a likely change of fortunes after dropping his serve.
The break point itself was a particularly frustrating moment for Djokovic, as he had played a drop shot that Carreno Busta had run down and put away for a winner.
Djokovic hit the ball without looking where it was going, but it landed in the most sensitive of spots for the unfortunate lineswoman. She was clearly in distress and struggling to breathe when
Djokovic rushed over to her to apologise.
Afterwards, Djokovic declined to speak to the media and left the site as soon as he could find his way to his car. “I am a little bit disappointed,” Greg Rusedski, the Amazon Prime pundit, said. “You’ve got to remember, this man is the world No1. Yes, it’s a very difficult situation being defaulted at a major but he should have come into press, taken responsibility and apologised for the situation.”
This verdict was supported by fellow pundit Tim Henman. “Unfortunately he’s compounding the error,” Henman said. “He needs to face up to it, apologise and accept he made a mistake. By, in essence, running away, it’s going to go on longer.”
This was not the first time in Djokovic’s career that he has smacked a ball away wildly in frustration. It was not even the first time on the night. He had already walloped one into the side hoardings beside the court, without any further consequence.
A five-minute conversation ensued between Djokovic and the officials on site. Soeren Friemel, the US Open referee, spoke at length to the Serb at the net, while grandslam supervisor Andreas Egli watched from the side of the net, just underneath the chair of umpire Aurelie Tourte.
Amazon Prime’s camera feed focused on the conversation. Djokovic could be heard saying: “You said you don’t have a choice but you just told me you have a choice. She was OK. What does the rule say? Listen, she is feeling better.”
Other unappealing reported quotes included the following: “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?”
This was not a controversial decision – in terms of the application of
the rules – given precedents such as Henman’s default from Wimbledon in 1995 after accidentally firing a ball into a ball girl’s head, or Denis Shapovalov’s default from the 2017 Davis Cup tie between Canada and Great Britain for striking a ball into the eye socket of umpire Arnaud Gabas.
The grand-slam rule book insists that players must not “physically abuse” any official.
Djokovic shook Carreno Busta’s hand as he left the court, but declined to shake Tourte’s. Afterwards, Carreno Busta told reporters: “I didn’t watch the moment when he threw the ball, no? I was looking to my coach, celebrating the break. When I turn back again, the line umpire was on the floor. I was in shock.”
A statement from tournament organisers confirmed that “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”.
It is hard to remember a default being applied in such extraordinary circumstances, against a runaway tournament favourite and world No1 in the middle of a grand slam. Djokovic’s unbroken sequence of 26 straight victories in 2020 has now come to the most ignominious of endings.
His default means that he will not receive any of the £188,000 prize money he had been guaranteed already, nor any ranking points from this tournament, while additional fines will be handed out at the discretion of the tournament.
From a public relations perspective, it has not been a good year all round for Djokovic, even if he did start it by winning the Australian Open. He outed himself as an anti-vaxxer, then hosted the fiasco that was the Adria Tour.
In New York, he and his righthand man, Vasek Pospisil, drew fire from many observers by attempting to launch a new players’ union in the most sensitive climate for tennis.
Sorry: Novak Djokovic tries to console the line judge as she holds her neck court-side