Novak Djokovic has issued an apology following his disqualification from the US Open after hitting a line judge in the throat when he swiped at a ball in frustration.
The world No 1 had just gone 6-5 behind in the opening set in his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta when he angrily hit a ball towards the back of the court, which struck a female line judge standing on the edge of the Artur Ashe Stadium.
The line judge fell to the ground after being hit and Djokovic immediately reacted with concern, with the Serbian rushing over to her aid to apologise and check on her condition. But despite his remorse, a decision was taken by tournament referee Soeren Friemel and grand slam supervisor Andreas Egli that his actions warranted a default offence, which resulted in his disqualification and forfeit of all tournament prize money and ranking points.
Djokovic argued his case for a lengthy period after the incident before leaving the arena without speaking to media, but he soon posted a message on Instagram to apologise for his actions and say that they were “so unintended and so wrong”.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” Djokovic wrote on Instagram.
“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.
“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.”
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.
A statement from tournament organisers read: “In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook… the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open.”
Djokovic was the clear favourite to win the 2020 US Open with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both absent due to the coronavirus protocols and injury respectively, and had reeled off 26 consecutive victories in what was an unbeaten calendar year until Sunday’s controversy.
It was unquestionably an accident but it is not the first time Djokovic has flirted with such a scenario. At the French Open in 2016 he threw his racket and nearly hit a line judge, while later that season he reacted with annoyance when questioned about a warning for hitting a ball angrily into the crowd during the ATP Finals.
Speaking at his post-match press conference, Carreno Busta had sympathy for Djokovic but felt it was the right decision.
He said: “I was in shock. I never expected this moment playing against Novak. So it was a tough moment also for me.
“I don’t think that any one of us do this kind of thing intentionally. It’s just the moment. The referee and the supervisor do the right thing, but it is not easy.”
Djokovic is not the first player to be defaulted in similar circumstances, but for it to happen at a grand slam and as the tournament favourite is an extraordinary situation.
Canadian Denis Shapovalov was defaulted during a Davis Cup tie against Great Britain in 2017 after smashing a ball in anger that hit umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye.
Tim Henman was disqualified from Wimbledon 25 years ago for hitting a ball girl with a ball during a doubles match while David Nalbandian kicked an advertising hoarding during the Queen’s final in 2012, injuring a line judge, and was defaulted.
Speaking on Amazon Prime, Henman said: “It’s a massive shock. There’s no doubt it’s the right decision. It’s amazing for me to talk about this because it happened to me at Wimbledon in 1995. It was that moment of frustration, hit the ball away when I wasn’t looking and I hit a ball girl in the ear.”
Djokovic will forfeit his prize money and ranking points, and will face a further fine for leaving the site immediately rather than explain himself in a press conference.
That decision earned strong criticism from Henman, who said: “There’s no doubt he’s made a mistake, which was an accident on the court.
“Unfortunately he’s compounded the error because he needs to face up to it, apologise and accept that he made a mistake. By then, in essence, running away from it, it’s going to go on longer.”
It is a remarkable end to a contentious summer for Djokovic, who earned criticism from inside and outside tennis when the exhibition Adria Tour he organised in the Balkans resulted in several players and coaches, including Djokovic, testing positive for Covid-19.
On the eve of the US Open, meanwhile, Djokovic left his role as head of the ATP Player Council to set up a rival player organisation.
His biggest critic among his fellow players has been Nick Kyrgios, who weighed in from Australia.
He wrote on Twitter: “Swap me for jokers incident. ‘Accidentally hitting the ball kid in the throat’ how many years would I be banned for?”
Djokovic’s disqualification means that, for the first time since Marin Cilic’s US Open win in 2014, there will be a new men’s grand slam champion.
Second seed Dominic Thiem, a three-time losing slam finalist, is the highest-ranked player remaining.
Fifth seed Alexander Zverev, who eased into the last eight with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, said: “It’s very unfortunate that he hit the line judge, and especially where it hit her.
“There is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job. But very unlucky for Novak. I’m a little bit in shock right now.”
Zverev becomes one of the leading contenders and he said: “Now I think is the time where it gets really interesting. I know who I can play. I know who the rest of the guys can play. We’ll see where we go from here.”
Borna Coric is his opponent in the last eight as the Croatian beat Jordan Thompson 7-5, 6-1, 6-3.
Carreno Busta will play Shapovalov after the Canadian produced a fine display to oust seventh seed David Goffin 6-7 (0-7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
Additional reporting by PA
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