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As we all know, last Sunday Novak Djokovic was defaulted at the US Open for hitting a ball outside of play at a linesperson. Even four days on, it’s still the biggest topic of discussion surrounding the second Grand Slam of the year. Some argue it was the right decision while others believe it was rather harsh. I for one am part of the latter bunch, and regardless of the ball hitting the linesperson, I think there’s a lot that didn’t go the Serbian’s way in the decision being made. All-in-all, I think the US Open has embarrassed the sport.
1) He had just been broken.
While it’s obvious to see the World #1 was not hitting the ball in anger, the fact that he was just broken at 5-5 leaving Carreno Busta to serve for the opening set no doubt led many to think both situations were related. As the tweet below suggests, if he held serve and still hits the linesperson, what’s the explanation then? It’s clearly not in anger so how would the rules have been applied?
I'll give you another FACT. If Djokovic had held serve at 5-5 and did exactly the same thing at the end of the game.. he WOULDN'T have been defaulted. As they would think it wasn't done in an angry manner just an accident and therefore just a warning. They presumed he was livid.
— Pavvy G (@pavyg) September 10, 2020
2) His reaction in the previous game.
Having blown triple set point in the previous game on the Spaniard’s serve, the former three-time champion took out his anger by hitting a ball on the side panels of the court. Without a doubt this was Djokovic taking out his frustration–if he hit a linesperson or ballkid in this incident, then there would be no denying a default would be the right outcome. However, regardless of this, it’s a totally different incident to what happened after the very next game, and I’m not entirely sure the tournament looked at it in isolation but with this also in mind.
3) He’s looking away when he hits the ball.
4) The ball is not hit hard.
5) He apologizes and goes to aid the lineswoman right away.
6) The referee who made the decision did not see what happened.
Four points, which are all closely related to the ending result of a default. If you take the points three to five into account, you can easily and clearly see there is no intent to harm anyone. The way the Serb reacts after the linesperson is hit says enough; even when she is on the floor he is doing his best to aid her.
But this is where point number six plays a big part. To the referee, the incident would seem like Djokovic taking his anger out by hitting a ball violently at a linesjudge–the reason for this? Well just look at points one and two; he would have known or been told these. Without any more to add to this, you can’t blame the referee for defaulting Djokovic. However, why was this the case to begin with? They have tons of videos of the incident from different angles, so how was this not looked at by the referee? Imagine a soccer referee making a huge decision based on what he’s been told instead of seeing what happened with his own two eyes? It’s laughable.
If the referee saw a replay of the incident, it does make you wonder how different the outcome of the decision, match, and tournament would have ended up. At the very least, the referee would have painted a very different picture of the incident.
7) The reaction of the woman hit.
I’m not going to outright say the linesperson overreacted, but it did look rather theatrical. The ball hit her neck but it also looked to the eye of a spectator that it wasn’t hit very hard. In fact if you watch slo-mo replays of the ball being hit you can see the ball is actually on its way down before it hits her. Of course the only person who really knows if she overreacted or not is the woman herself, but I can’t recall any linespeople falling over after being hit by a ball of that pace in the past.
Imagine if the lineswoman kept on her feet and didn’t have trouble breathing afterwards; perhaps she could have even told the referee it was an obvious accident without any harm intended. Either way, it brings up issues with the rules: If the ball ended up hitting her leg, for example, then she surely wouldn’t have fallen over or started gasping for air. Would Djokovic still have been defaulted? Why should such a big outcome essentially come down to luck? Since he’s not even aiming at her, he’s unlucky it hits her to begin with, but then gets even more unlucky that he hits her where he did, coupled with how she reacts.
Just look at Aljaz Bedene, who hit a cameraman accidentally two weeks ago. The cameraman continued with no issues whatsover and therefore the Slovenian was not defaulted. Here on the other hand, the lineswoman was hurt and had to leave the court, no doubt playing a huge factor in the decision to default the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
8) It’s Novak Djokovic.
It’s sad that this is a point but it needs to be brought up. Over the past few days many incidents of Roger Federer hitting balls in anger into the crowd, at ballboys, and so on have been brought back from the past. One in particular says all you need to know. Whilst I understand that balls are often hit to ballkids for them to collect and hold onto, in this situation the Swiss superstar was trying a trick shot. After the ballboy was hit, Roger simply laughed it off with a “you got to be ready.” How is this much different? How can the same outcome of a ballboy and linesperson being hit yield such different results? At the end of the day, both weren’t intending to hit anyone yet one gets kicked out of a Grand Slam while the other isn’t even looked into. Oh, and Roger Federer went onto win that Australian Open by the way. Make of that what you will.
2020: @DjokerNole hits line umpire…disqualified from the US Open
2006: @rogerfederer does a trick shot and hits me in the🎾🎾…says “you got to be ready” and has a chuckle
— Heath Jamieson (@heath_jamieson) September 9, 2020
To conclude, I think the tournament made an absolutely horrible decision. If you want to go down the route of “who cares if it’s accidental, he still hit her’,” then it’s simply hypocritical. Roger Federer as well as many others like Aljaz Bedene only two weeks ago have gotten away with hitting ballkids and cameramen just because it’s ‘”accidental.” Why can’t we get them defaulted as well? Let’s take away Federer’s Australian Open 2006 title too while we are at it.
Even if you argue those are just situations of the rule being applied wrong, and that both Federer and Bedene should have been defaulted, it highlights a big problem with the rule to begin. The fact is from the way the rule is written and stands now, you’re better aiming in anger at someone, hitting the ball really hard, and barely missing them opposed to hitting the ball lightly without looking and it accidentally hitting someone.
Let’s also not forget this whole accidental incident also caused Djokovic to not only lose the ranking points and $250,000 he earned in New York, but also an additional $20,000 on top.
It’s a joke.