World No 1 Novak Djokovic has been sensationally disqualified in the US Open fourth round after striking a line judge with a ball during the first set of his match against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic was becoming frustrated after failing to take the opening set and suffering a fall and having dropped serve to trail 5-6, he hit a ball reasonably hard to the back of the court, striking a female line judge.
He immediately apologised and stood over her before becoming involved in a lengthy exchange with the tournament referee.
Novak Djokovic, the #1 tennis player in the world, was disqualified from US Open after accidentally hitting line judge in the throat with a tennis ball.— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) September 6, 2020
Prior to today, Djokovic was undefeated all year and was the clear favorite to win the tournament.
Under the rules of the game there is no option other than a default and despite Djokovic's pleadings that he had not meant to hit the official, he was eventually disqualified.
Djokovic shook hands with a stunned Carreno Busta and trudged off to face the music.
He refused to do media interviews following the disqualification, instead taking to social media share his version of the events.
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.
It was an incredible end to the top seed's hopes of winning an 18th Grand Slam title - something that had looked increasingly likely as the fortnight progressed.
"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."
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."
USTA statement on default of Novak Djokovic: pic.twitter.com/dqlt0mokg9— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
Djokovic was the heavy favourite to win the men's singles title at the US Open, which is being played behind closed doors and is the first Grand Slam to take place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Going into the match against 20th seed Carreno Busta, Djokovic had not lost a singles match in 2020.
The 33-year-old was aiming for an 18th Grand Slam triumph to move closer to rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who are not playing in New York, in the race to finish with the most men's major titles of all-time.
Former top women's player Tracy Austin said on Twitter it was the right call.
Right call! Stunning to watch this unfold. Hope lines person ok.@DjokerNole clear favorite to win 18th GS-shrink margin behind Rafa/Roger. Seems only way ND loses. New 1st time MAJOR champion will be crowned. #crazyturnofevents— Tracy Austin (@thetracyaustin) September 6, 2020
It caps off a turbulent few weeks for the Serb. He tested positive for Covid-19 in June after organising the Adria Tour exhibition tournament in the Balkan region.
Djokovic was criticised for hosting the tournament amid a pandemic after Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also returned positive tests after playing in the tournament that was held in Serbia and Croatia.
- Reuters / BBC