Update 7:02 PM Eastern: Novak Djokovic released a statement apologizing for the incident.
Novak Djokovic has been defaulted out of the US Open after a ball he hit away in frustration struck a line judge in the throat during his match against Pablo Carreno Busta late in the first set of their fourth-round clash. Although there is no suggestion that the Serbian intended to injure the line judge, the rules are clear that any ball or racquet thrown that hits a line judge will lead to a default for the player and that is what happened to the world #1, who was considered to be the favourite by most ahead of the tournament.
Djokovic did immediately apologise to the line judge, but the tournament referee, after a lengthy consultation with Djokovic and the umpire, handed the Serbian the first default of his career, to see him exit the tournament at the fourth round for the second year in a row. His frustration was understandable, as he had just gone down a break to the Spaniard after taking a bad fall, marking a dramatic collapse with Djokovic having held three set points just moments earlier.
There are, of course, other examples of this rule. David Nalbandian was defaulted from the 2012 Queen’s Club final after he kicked an advertisement in frustration. The ad hit a lineman’s shin and drew blood, which was an automatic default. Tim Henman was famously defaulted from Wimbledon for accidentally hitting a ballgirl in the face. Three years ago, Denis Shapovalov was defaulted for accidentally hitting the chair umpire in the face. That ball actually fractured the umpire’s eye socket, which helps us understand the rule for an automatic default for injuring someone.
You can see the angles of the video yourself. It was pretty clearly not intended to hit the lineswoman, but again, that doesn’t matter. If a player hits the ball in anger and injures anyone––a line judge, an umpire, or even a fan––it’s an automatic default.
Djokovic just hit a lines person in the neck with an errant ball after losing a point. And I think he knew it. Yikes. pic.twitter.com/05iVUtpQ0Z
— thehojo (@thehojo) September 6, 2020
The USTA released its statement on the incident saying as much.
USTA statement on default of Novak Djokovic: pic.twitter.com/dqlt0mokg9
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
That leaves the field wide open at the US Open. Djokovic was the last man left in the draw to have won a Grand Slam, after Marin Cilic and Andy Murray made early exits and Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka did not make the trip to the USA. But few could have expected Djokovic’s chances in New York to come to an end in this fashion. The question now will be who can take advantage of Djokovic’s absence from the draw.
Amongst the favorites will be Daniil Medvedev, who reached the second week without dropping a set and was runner-up in New York last season. Dominic Thiem, the second seed who has reached three Grand Slam finals in the last four years, may well also like his chances of going all the way in New York. Alexander Zverev, the world #7, also remains in contention. All that is certain now is that at the end of this fortnight, men’s tennis will have a new Grand Slam champion for the first time since Cilic won the US Open in 2014.
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