Top-seeded Novak Djokovic has been defaulted from his fourth-round match at the US Open after he accidentally hit a line judge with a tennis ball.
It was a stunning end to Djokovic’s bid for an 18th Grand Slam title and his 26-0 start to this season.
“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 U.S. Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 U.S. Open,” the US Tennis Association announced.
“Because he was defaulted,” the USTA statement continued, “Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the U.S. 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.”
With 2019 champion Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer not in the field this year, Djokovic arrived in New York as the overwhelming favorite.
But it all came apart Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium, when Djokovic had just lost a game to his opponent, Pablo Carreno Busta, to fall behind 6-5 in the first set.
As he walked to the sideline for the changeover, Djokovic smacked a ball behind him. The ball hit a female line judge, who dropped to her knees at the back of the court in New York City.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 6, 2020
Djokovic immediately apologised and stood over her before becoming involved in a lengthy exchange with the tournament referee.
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.
After a discussion of several minutes with officials on court, Djokovic walked over to shake hands with Carreno Busta, and the default was announced.
Tim Henman, who was disqualified from Wimbledon for a similar incident in 1995, told Amazon Prime it was “the right decision”.
“He is not aiming for the line judge, but has hit the ball away and you have to be responsible for your actions,” he said.
Alexander Zverev, the tournament’s No. 5-seeded man who reached the quarterfinals by winning on Sunday, said the incident was “very unlucky for Novak”.
“If it would have landed anywhere else – we’re talking a few inches – he would have been fine,” he said.
Djokovic’s departure means there is no man remaining in the field who previously has won a Grand Slam singles title. Whoever emerges as champion will be the first first-time major trophy winner in men’s tennis since 2014, when Marin Cilic won the US Open.
Plus, each of the last 13 Grand Slam trophies had been won by a member of the Big Three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
“Going to be a new Grand Slam champion, (that’s) all I know. No Grand Slam champions left in the draw. Now it gets interesting,” said Zverev, who beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 Sunday. “Now I think is the time when it gets really interesting.”