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Novak Djokovic’s default in the US Open: facts, rules and reactions

The biggest news to come out of the US Open might just be this — world No 1 Novak Djokovic was defaulted in his fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta. It was certainly a tricky situation for the USTA to handle, and here are some of the facts and response in regards to the incident.

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, talks with the umpire after inadvertently hitting a line judge with a ball after hitting it in reaction to losing a point against Pablo Carreno Busta, of Spain, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, in New York. Djokovic defaulted the match. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)/USO169/20250742484133//2009062231 Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, talks with tournament referee Soeren Friemel

Here are the facts we know about Novak Djokovic‘s default from US Open 2020.

Why was Djokovic defaulted?

Djokovic’s frustration was building up at the end of the first set in his fourth round against Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open 2020. After having three chances in the previous service game of the Spaniard to claim the set (5-4, 0-40), the top seed was immediately broken afterward (5-6). Djokovic decided to let go of his frustration by smacking the ball in his hand toward the back wall on the court, where it directly struck the neck of a line judge located at the middle of the back wall.

Novak Djokovic, US Open default

The line judge had to be helped up and later was removed from the court. After a lengthy discussion between the chair umpire, tournament officials and a neighbouring line judge along with Djokovic himself, it was announced that the three-time US Open champion was defaulted according to the abuse of balls section of the rulebook.

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.

How did Djokovic react?

Shortly after Djokovic’s default, the Serb was seen departing the Flushing Meadows site, with the US Open officials confirmed.

According to Ben Rothenberg, the sound being picked up on the court indicated the Serb was attempting to downplay the importance of the incident and highlight the importance of the moment.


How did the organisations react to Djokovic’s default?

After the incident, USTA released an official statement of the rule violations Djokovic offended. He will lose more than a game.

“In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open. Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”

Currently, no further penalty is being applied to Djokovic.

What are the reactions?

Players and pundits generally felt that the decision was right and shared the sentiment that it was an unfortunate incident. Carreno Busta, Djokovic’s opponent in the match, stated he was shocked at the post-match press conference.

“Of course I was in shock, because I never expect this moment, no? I was very focused on do my game and play the match. Well, in this moment, I was in shock.”

He also felt like Djokovic did not do it on purpose, but the USTA made the correct decision on the spot.

“Of course I think this was not intentional. I don’t think that any one of us, of the players, do this kind of thing intentional, you know. It’s just the moment. It’s just I broke him the serve, and, you know, he throw the ball. 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?”

Pablo Carreno Busta reacts to Novak Djokovic being defaulted | 2020 US Open

Billie Jean King shared Carreno Busta’s sentiment on the issue.

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Martina Navratilova had a strong choice of words toward Djokovic’s action, but also leaned toward the camp that he did it inadvertently.

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Former world No 1 Mats Wilander commented on the incident as well via Eurosport UK, stating that the action is unnecessary and the action was not allowed

“It’s as much bad luck as you can have on a tennis court. He didn’t just roll the ball back to the ball kid, that’s the bottom line. He hit it harder than he intended to, obviously a complete accident. It was a sign of frustration, yes, a little bit. But it doesn’t matter, you aren’t allowed to do it.”

“We should also hope the linesperson is okay, it looked like she could hardly breathe. I’ve seen the replay now, and it is a pretty obvious default and there is nothing you can do.

“The only thing I’d question is why the umpire didn’t look at a video tape before making a decision, but there’s no question that is a default.”

Has there been any precedence in this level of play?

Yes, five players have been defaulted in a Grand Slam.

  • 1990: John McEnroe at Australian Open
  • 1995: Carsten Arriens at French Open
  • 1995: Jeff Tarango in Wimbledon
  • 2000: Stefan Koubek at French Open
  • 2009: Serena Williams at US Open

John McEnroe Is Disqualified | Australian Open 1990

Djokovic has also had close run-ins with incidents of a similar matter where he threw his racket out of frustration and almost hitting ball boys and line judges. In a previous press conference, he’s shown a disregard toward his similar actions.

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