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Djokovic, Others React To His Shocking Default As Men’s U.S. Open Draw Is Thrown Into Chaos

By Ricky Dimon

Just when you thought this tournament and this season could not get any crazier, the 2020 U.S. Open produced a moment that will live in tennis infamy,

No more is Benoit Paire and his close contacts the big story. The Adrian Mannarino and Kristina Mladenovic sagas? Things of the past at this point.

Now it is only Novak Djokovic who is the talk of the tennis–and even the sports–world. The world  No. 1 was defaulted out of the U.S. Open after accidentally hitting a linesperson in the throat with a tennis ball that he whacked in frustration during the first set of his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta on Sunday afternoon.

It was a situation Djokovic obviously could have avoided by keeping his emotions in check. But he also could have prevented it with his play on the court. The 17-time Grand Slam champion had triple set point with Carreno Busta serving to stay in the opener at 4-5, 0-40. All three of those set points went by the wayside for Djokovic and the Spaniard eventually held for 5-5. Having somehow managed to stay alive in the set, Carreno Busta maintained that monentum to break Djokovic easily for a 6-5 advantage.

That is when disaster struck.

Before walking to his chair for the change of ends, Djokovic sent a ball toward the back wall–normally a harmless act that would not even incur a code violation. But the ill-fated path of this particular ball went directly to a lineswoman and put her on the ground and apparently struggling to breath.

An on-court discussion between tournament referees–and occasionally Djokovic, himself, interjecting–lasted more than 10 minutes. But it alway seemed like it was only delaying the inevitable. There was no choice but to default him. And that is exactly what happened.

“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 U.S.Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open,” the USTA stated. “Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the U.S. 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.”

“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” Djokovic posted on Instagram a few hours later after leaving the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without giving a press conference. “I checked on the lines person 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 wrote.

“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,” he wrote. “I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior.”

“I was in shock,” Carreno Busta commented. “I never expected this moment playing against Novak, So it was a tough moment also [for] me. “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 intentionally, you know?… 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. The referee and the supervisor did the right thing, but it is not easy to do it.”

“I mean, look, it’s unfortunate,” said Alexander Zverev, who is in the same quarter of the draw. “He hit a ball; he hit a tennis ball. It’s very unfortunate that he hit the line judge, and especially where it hit her.

Yeah, there is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job. But very unlucky for Novak. He could have…if he would have hit it anywhere else, if it would have landed anywhere else, we are talking about a few inches, he would have been fine. So, yeah, very unlucky.”

“My coach came into the room and said what happened,” reflected Borna Coric, who will face Zverev on Tuesday. “I went out in my suite just to see what happened. Obviously that’s unlucky. It’s very, very unlucky. If it just went five centimeters on the left, it wouldn’t [have happened]. I feel sorry for him. At the same time, you know, that’s the rules. I think he needed to be defaulted. There is not much else to say. Again, I do feel sorry for him. He’s my friend. Obviously I think nobody’s happy that that happened.

“Definitely it’s a very good chance for all of us…. There’s going to be new Grand Slam champion, for sure. I’m really looking forward to seeing who it’s going to be. I think we all have a very good chance. Yeah, it’s going to be very interesting.

For me, the most important is just to focus on the next match, like I said at the beginning. I cannot focus on the finals or what happened earlier in the day.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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