Novak Djokovic Disqualified From US Open

WASHINGTON, September 7, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Sunday afternoon, the already unimaginable 2020 US Open took another crazy turn when men’s World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic was disqualified from his round of 16 match against Spain’s No. 20 seed Pablo Carreño Busta, after unintentionally striking a lineswoman with a ball.

The incident occurred at 4:01 p.m., about 40 minutes into the match. It came at the conclusion of the 11th game of the first set, after Djokovic’s serve was broken at 15 by Carreño Busta. As the Serbian was preparing to go to the changeover, in an act of frustration, he pulled a spare ball from the pocket of his shorts and, without looking, hit it with his racquet toward the back of the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The ball struck a lineswoman squarely in the throat and she immediately fell onto the court, apparently gasping for air. She eventually was helped up and left the court under her own power.

After 10 minutes of consultation at the net that involved Djokovic pleading his case to tournament referee Soeren Friemel and Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli, the 17-time Grand Slam winner was defaulted from the match and out of the US Open at 4:11 p.m. Djokovic was disqualified in accordance with the Grand Slam rule book statue pertaining to “abuse of balls.”

According to the Grand Slam rule book, “… Abuse of balls is defined as intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences.”

Carreño Busta was declared the winner by default and advanced to the quarterfinals, where he will meet 12th seed Denis Shapovalov. The Spaniard reached the US Open semifinals in 2017.

The default of Djokovic, who entered as a heavy favorite to win his 18th major singles title with the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, brings to a bitter end his undefeated (26-0) season and it ensures that there will be a new male Grand Slam champion for the first time since 2014, and a player outside of the Big Three – Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – will win a major for the first time since Stan Wawrinka won the US Open in 2016. The only major finalists remaining in the draw are second seed Dominic Thiem and third seed Daniil Medvedev.

In a statement, the U.S. Tennis Assocation said:

“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 a the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in additional to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”

Djokovic, who had earned $250,000 for reaching the fourth round, departed the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without speaking with reporters at 4:34 p.m.

In his virtual press conference, the No. 27 Carreño Busta admitted feeling sorry for Djokovic but added “the rules are the rules.” He said he didn’t see the moment when it happened because he was focused at looking at his coach. Once he saw the lineswoman on the court, he was in shock.

When he was asked about the incident, Carreño Busta said, “Of course I think that this was not intentional. I don’t think that any one of the players does these kinds of things intentionally. It’s just the moment. … You cannot do this, but of course I think that Novak never wanted to hit the line umpire.”

Reaction to the Djokovic incident and subsequent default came from both players and media Sunday afternoon into the evening. Alexander Zverev was asked to comment about it at the start of  his virtual news conference after his victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. He said:

“I mean, look, it’s unfortunate. He hit a ball, he hit a tennis ball. It’s very unfortunate that, you know, he hit the line judge, and especially where it hit her.

“Yeah, there is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job. But, yeah, very unlucky for Novak.

“I think he’s going to be a little bit upset about it, but, yeah. He could have – if he would have hit it anywhere else, if it would have landed anywhere else, we are talking about a few inches, he would have been fine.

“So, yeah, very unlucky.”

John McEnroe, appearing on ESPN, said of Djokovic not doing a press conference: “You’ve got to man up there.” 

Tim Herman, who commented on the Djokovic match for Amazing Prime Video, said of Djokovic: “He needs to face up to it, apologize and accept he made a mistake. By in essence running away from it, it’s going to go on even longer.”

Mats Wilander, appearing on Eurosport, said Djokovic must accept his punishment. “You are not allowed to do that,” he said. “It’s as much bad luck as you can have on a tennis court. He didn’t just roll the ball back to the ball kid., that’s the bottom line. He hit it harder than he intended to, obviously a complete accident. It was a sign of frustration, yes. A little bit. But it doesn’t matter, you are not allowed to do it.”

Sports Illustrated tennis writer and Tennis Channel commentator Jon Wertheim shared his thoughts in a video:

“Who thought that the player to beat Novak Djokovic in 2020 would be … Novak Djokovic,” said Wertheim. “For everything that the tournament might have anticipated in this recess, with no fans, with bubble protocol, I suspect they never would have thought that the top player – the favorite – the only player left in the draw who had ever won a major would essentially get defaulted for this code violation. …

“I think everyone needs to take a deep breath because an hour ago, the sport was very different than it is right now.”

By Sunday night, several hours after the incident, Djokovic posted a lengthy message on his Instagram platform, in which he apologized for his behavior. He said:

“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 US Open 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.”

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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.

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