Novak Djokovic has apologised for hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open – an incident that saw the men’s world No.1 tennis player disqualified from the tournament.
With no Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer at this year’s event, Djokovic was the overwhelming favourite to win the New York title and take his career grand slam tally to 18. However, his chances of reining in Nadal (on 19) and Federer (on 20) are over for now following the default.
Trailing 5-6 in the first set of the fourth-round match against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic “hit a ball in frustration behind him”, The Guardian reports, and it struck a lineswoman in the throat.
The Serb rushed to apologise, but after a ten-minute discussion with officials he was defaulted from the match and tournament. US Open referee Soeren Friemel said he had “no other option” but to disqualify the 33-year-old.
The US Tennis Association (USTA) said in a statement: “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.”
Djokovic’s disqualification has split the field wide open and means there must be a first-time winner of the US Open men’s singles title.
‘I’m so sorry’: Novak’s apology
Djokovic, a four-time US Open champion, did not attend the post-match press conference but he did post a statement on Instagram apologising for his actions.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he said. “I checked on the linesperson 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 apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour. 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.”
How the tennis world reacted
Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic’s opponent
“I didn’t see the moment, I was looking at my coach, celebrating the break and then I saw the line judge on the floor. I was in shock. When they were talking at the net I was focused in case I had to continue playing. This moment was so long. Finally Novak gave me the hand. I think it was not intentional. I don’t think anyone of us do this intentionally. It’s just the moment. It was bad luck. Of course you can’t do this. The rules are the rules. The referee and the supervisor did the right thing but it isn’t easy to make this decision.”
Alexander Zverev, world No.7
“It’s very unlucky, very unfortunate. The decision was made by the supervisors and, as I said, they’re just doing their job.”
Martina Navratilova, 18-time grand slam winner
“Unbelievable what just happened on the court at the US Open – Novak Djokovic defaulted for inadvertently but stupidly hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball and the officials had no choice but to default. Wow. Glad the woman is OK – we must do better than that.”
Tim Henman, former British No.1
“He’s hit that ball aiming for the back fence … but you have to be responsible for your actions.”
Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent
“If Novak Djokovic hadn’t have been defaulted in that situation, can you imagine the outrage? What sort of light would that have shone on tennis neutrality and the decisions that these officials make? It was an open and shut case to me. I don’t see how you could argue that was not a disqualification. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit the ball. I don’t think he has any defence at all.”
Pablo Mosquera, Last Word on Tennis
“It’s unclear how this situation will affect Djokovic moving forward. Will it be an extra stimulus to ruthlessly destroy his opposition on clay? Will it set him back mentally? No matter what happens next, Djokovic will never forget September 6, 2020.”