Novak Djokovic was abruptly disqualified from the US Open after hitting a linesperson in the neck with a ball as he was trailing Pablo Carreño Busta 6-5 in the opening set of their Round of 16 match.
The World No. 1 rapidly approached the lineswoman to apologize and make sure she was physically okay. Yet, after a lengthy conversation, tournament officials decided the Djokovic had to be defaulted.
Here are some thoughts about this extremely bizarre occurrence.
1. A matter of millimeters
What happened to Djokovic encapsulates how much a match, a tournament, or even tennis history can change by half an inch.
At 4-5 *0-40, Carreño attempted a bold forehand down the line that barely kissed the line by a hair. In fact, the Spaniard got saved by the HawkEye after the linesperson had called it out and Djokovic was already headed to the chair. Subsequently, Djokovic fell apart, dropping eight straight points and nine out of the next ten, until the inch-perfect neck shot happened.
Prior to the accident, the Serbian was putting together one of the finest serving performances of his career. The first set was an exhibition of his pinpoint accuracy. In six service games, Djokovic connected nine aces out of 28 total points. That’s a 32.1% ace rate, which according to Tennis Abstract would only trail the 6-2 6-1 demolition of Andy Roddick at the 2012 London Olympics (32.6%). In no other match had Djokovic even reached 28%.
2. Angst brewing
Djokovic had already flirted with disaster in the previous game. After Carreño staved off the third set point with a deft drop shot, the 33-year-old viciously hit a ball toward the side of the court. Luckily, it didn’t impact anyone.
Instead of doubling down on releasing his anger on a ball, smashing his racket would have been a safer play for Djokovic. At least his sponsor would have received extra publicity.
3. Nothing is assured in tennis
Djokovic was an overwhelming favorite to win his 18th Major at the US Open. Statistical models such as Tennis Abstract listed him as a 70% favorite to win the whole thing entering the Round of 16. And you know what? Nobody blinked an eye, since no other player in the event had lifted a Slam trophy.
This is a reminder that no result shall be taken for granted in pro tennis. As dominant as Djokovic has been throughout the past decade, especially on hard courts, he has only won three US Open titles.
4. The warm-up video
Certain people on Twitter lambasted Djokovic for a video he uploaded roughly an hour in advance of his match. In it, the World No. 1 and his physical therapist Ulises Badio appear singing and dancing.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) September 6, 2020
Arguing that Djokovic disregarded Carreño as a non-threat for posting this video is just outrageous. However, was it really necessary? Whether you believe in karma or not, messing with pre-match routine is not advisable.
Unless you’ve just woken up from an eight-month coma, you have probably realized 2020 is really weird. Stranger Things’ level weird. In my US Open preview piece, I speculated about a PTPA boycott or with an alien invasion. Both extremely far-fetched possibilities. But the likelihood of Djokovic literally defeating himself on Arthur Ashe Stadium wasn’t much higher. Raise your hand if you weren’t flabbergasted for an entire minute.
Until this unfortunate incident, the Serbian boasted an unblemished 26-0 record on the court. Nevertheless, Djokovic had to deal with a fair share of off-court controversy, such as his vaccine stance or the Adria Tour’s reckless lousy organization.
Up next for Djokovic
It’s unclear how this situation will affect Djokovic moving forward. Will it be an extra stimulus to ruthlessly destroy his opposition on clay? Will it set him back mentally? No matter what happens next, Djokovic will never forget September 6, 2020.
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