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Novak Djokovic out of U.S. Open after hitting line judge with ball

Novak Djokovic of Serbia tends to a line

Novak Djokovic of Serbia tends to a line judge who Djokovic hit in the throat with a ball during his Men's Singles fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain on Day Seven of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello

Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the world and the No. 1 seed of the U.S. Open, was defaulted from the tournament on Sunday after a ball he hit in anger struck the throat of a line judge who then fell to the court in audible agony.

Djokovic had just lost his serve and was down 5-6 in the first set to Pablo Carreno Busta in a round-of-16 match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. He hit the two balls he had in his pocket toward the back wall. He was not looking in the direction in which he hit the second ball that hit the line judge.

Realizing what he did after hearing her react to being struck, Djokovic went over to her as did her fellow linespersons. She had to be removed from the rotation.

After a long conversation with tournament referee Soeren Friemel, who had also consulted with chair umpire Aurelie Tourte and Andreas Egli, a Grand Slam supervisor, Djokovic was tossed.

He left the site without speaking to the media.

Djokovic posted the following on his Instagram account: "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."

The USTA issued this 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, who had won the Australian Open in January, was the overwhelming favorite at Flushing Meadows in the absence defending champion Rafael Nadal.

Friemel said the decision was clear after assessing the facts even though Djokovic said that he had not done it intentionally.

“Intent is part of the discussion, but there are two factors. One is the action and [two] the result,” she said. “The action, while there was no intent, the result of hitting the line umpire and clearly being hurt is the essential factor in the decision making process here. We wouldn’t have had this long a discussion if he did it on purpose.”

While saying that she has discretion in these situations, Friemel said, “In this incident, I don’t think there was any chance of any opportunity or any other decision other than defaulting Novak because the facts were so clear, so obvious, that line umpire was so clearly hurt. Novak was angry, he hit the ball recklessly, angrily back and taking everything into consideration there was no discretion involved.”

The incident was shocking to Busta. “I didn’t watch the moment when he threw the ball, no,” he said. “I was looking to my coach, celebrating the break. When I turn back again, the line umpire was on the floor. I’m very apprehensive with these kind of things, so I was a little bit in shock, no? I ask to the Colombian guys who [were] in the crowd if the ball hit the line umpire, and I was in shock. I never expected this moment playing against Novak, you know. So it was tough moment also to me.”

Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who earned a 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Belgian David Goffin and would have faced Djokovic had the latter advanced, was defaulted from a Davis Cup match against Great Britain in 2017 after striking a ball in anger that hit the chair umpire and broke his eye socket. Englishman Tim Henman was defaulted from Wimbledon in 1995 after hitting a ball girl with a ball at the end of a point during the doubles competition.

Djokovic had been undefeated at 26-0 in the pandemic-altered season. His ouster means there will be a first-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion at the Open. Djokovic, who has won 17 major titles, was the only player left in the draw who had won a Grand Slam title.

At this Open, the only linespersons being used were at Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium. All other courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are using the Hawk-Eye Live system.

Big wins for American women

Jennifer Brady and Shelby Rogers took out two Grand Slam champions to reach the quarterfinals. Brady beat German Angelique Kerber, 6-1, 6-4, and Rogers defeated Czech Petra Kvitova —who held match points — 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6).

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