Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic defaulted from the US Open on Sunday after a tennis ball he accidentally hit in anger struck a female line judge in the neck.
After dropping his serve to trail 6-5 in the first set of his fourth-round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic angrily smashed a ball in frustration that struck the line judge in the neck, causing her to fall to the ground.
Djokovic immediately rushed over to check if she was okay and placed his hand on her back as she struggled for air. After a few minutes, she was able to get up and walk off the court.
After a discussion of around 10 minutes between tournament referees and officials, Djokovic was disqualified from the match in accordance with the rules.
The organizers released a statement explaining the referee’s decision.
“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,” the statement said.
Djokovic’s unexpected exit ends both his 26-match winning streak this year and his attempt to win his 18th Grand Slam title, with the drama also sending Carreno Busta into the men’s quarterfinals.
“I was a little bit in shock,” Carreno Busta said. “The rules are the rules. The referee and the supervisor did the right thing, but it’s not easy to do it.”
Djokovic apologized later through social media.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the linesperson and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong,” Djokovic said.
“As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being.”
Djokovic has won five of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments to raise his total to 17, closing in on rivals Roger Federer, who has a men’s record of 20 titles, and Rafael Nadal, who has 19.
With reigning US Open champion Nadal, who cited concerns about traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and an injury-hit Federer opting out of the event, Djokovic had been favorite to win another title in New York.