- 06 Sep 2020
Having just been broken for 5-6 in the first set of his fourth-round match with Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, Novak Djokovic hit a ball in frustration behind him toward the back fence, only to look in horror as it hit a lineswoman.
The lineswoman fell to the ground and was struggling to breathe and Djokovic quickly went over to help her but after a long discussion with the tournament referee, Soeren Friemel and the Grand Slam supervisor, Andreas Egli, the chair umpire Aurelie Tourte announced that Djokovic had been defaulted.
In a statement, the USTA said Djokovic, who left the grounds at Flushing Meadows without doing his obligatory media commitments, would lose all his ranking points and prize money from the tournament, while he could yet receive an additional fine.
USTA statement on default of Novak Djokovic: pic.twitter.com/dqlt0mokg9
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
The incident ended Djokovic’s hopes of an 18th Grand Slam title and means that there will be a new name on the men’s trophy this year.
Intent not important
Though Djokovic clearly had not intended to hit the lineswoman, the rules do not discriminate.
The incident happened at the end of the first set when Djokovic had just failed to take one of three set points at 5-4 up. Soon after, he fell and hurt his shoulder and then, after dropping serve, he hit a ball toward the back fence.
The world No 1 then saw the ball hit the lineswoman in the throat and he quickly went to assist her. The lineswoman seemed to recover quickly, but under the Grand Slam rules, Djokovic had to be defaulted.
Though it was initially thought the incident fell under the “physical abuse” and default sections of the Grand Slam rules, tournament referee Soeren Friemel said on Sunday night that it was actually “abuse of balls”.
N. ABUSE OF BALLS Players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball within the precincts of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match (including warm-up). Violation of this Section shall subject a player to fine up to $20,000 for each violation. In addition, if such violation occurs during a match (including the warmup) the player shall be penalised in accordance with the Point Penalty Schedule hereinafter set forth. For the purposes of this Rule, abuse of balls is defined as intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences.
Carreno Busta said he was shocked by what happened but though he was sure Djokovic did not intend to hit the lineswoman, said the officials had made the correct call.
“Of course I think this was not intentional,” he said. “I don’t think that any one of us, of the players, do this kind of thing intentional. I think that it was bad luck, no? You cannot do this, but of course I think that Novak never, never wants to hit the line umpire. Well, the rules are the rules. These kind of things never likes. The referee and the supervisor do the right thing, but is not easy to do it, no?”
Former world No 4 Tim Henman, working for Amazon Prime in the UK, said the incident was very similar to the one which saw him defaulted at Wimbledon in 1995. Henman was playing a doubles match when he hit a ball in frustration towards the net and it hit a ball girl, who was running across the court, in the ear.
“Two things. No doubt it’s the right decision. And it’s very similar to what happened to me at Wimbledon in 1995. There’s no intent but he will reflect and think he should have been heading towards winning the title and 10 minutes later he gets defaulted. The first question to be in the press conference was “how do you feel to be the first person in 120 years to be defaulted at Wimbledon? I was shocked and embarrassed.”
The 17-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic, who has not lost a match in 2020, had been the overwhelming favourite to win the US Open title but will now have to wait for his quest to chase down Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the list of all-time Grand Slam winners.