In a shocking end to his 29-match winning streak and bid for an 18th Grand Slam title, Novak Djokovic was kicked out of the US Open for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a tennis ball after dropping a game in his fourth-round match.
As he walked to the Arthur Ashe Stadium sideline for a changeover on Sunday, trailing Pablo Carre o Busta 6-5 in the first set, Djokovic who was seeded and ranked No. 1 and an overwhelming favorite for the championship angrily smacked a ball behind him.
The ball flew right at the line judge, who dropped to her knees at the back of the court and reached for her neck.
During a discussion of about 10 minutes near the net involving tournament referee Soeren Friemel, Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli and chair umpire Aurelie Tourte, Djokovic pleaded his case. “His point was that he didn’t hit the line umpire intentionally.”
He said, “Yes, I was angry. I hit the ball. I hit the line umpire. The facts are very clear. But it wasn’t my intent. I didn’t do it on purpose.” So he said he shouldn’t be defaulted for it, said Friemel, who made the decision to end the match. “And we all agree that he didn’t do it on purpose, but the facts are still that he hit the line umpire and the line umpire was clearly hurt.”
Djokovic posted an apology on social media hours later. “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,” Djokovic wrote.
“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,” he said and added: “I apologise to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior.”
Asked whether he thought Djokovic should have been allowed to continue to play, Carre o Busta shrugged and replied: “Well, the rules are the rules. … The referee and the supervisor (did) the right thing, but it’s not easy to do it.”
Rules are rules, no doubt. But, Djokovic’s case can be reconsidered since he is one of the greatest players of our times and he did not hit the judge intentionally.