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Novak Djokovic Thrown Out Of US Open After Injuring A Line Judge

By Alix Ramsay

As dawn broke on Sunday, there were 16 men left in the men’s draw at the US Open. Of them, there was one overwhelming favourite – Novak Djokovic – and yet by teatime, the world had been turned on its head.

Djokovic was out of the tournament, defaulted after thwacking a line judge in the throat with a stray ball.

Furious after losing his serve in the latter stages of the first set against Pablo Carreno Busta, the world No.1 took the spare ball from his pocket and belted it without a thought. But that ball speared away and hit a female line judge in throat as she stood at the back of the court. Immediately, as Djokovic realised what he had done, he went to see if the official was all right as she crumpled to the floor.

But it did not matter; the damage had been done. He had committed the ultimate sin: he had injured an official and there was no way back. He was gone. No argument.

There was a prolonged period of discussion at the net – 12 minutes of it – between Djokovic and Soeren Friemel, the US Open tournament referee, Andreas Egli, the grand slam supervisor, and Aurelie Tourte, the match umpire. But no matter; there was nothing to be done. Djokovic had injured an official and, as a result, he could not be allowed to continue.

According to some observers, Djokovic tried to plead his case by saying that the official was not injured to the point that she needed to go to hospital.

“She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this” he was heard to say. “You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage.”

His appeals fell on deaf ears: he had no plausible defence in the eyes of the tournament.

Shortly after, he left the tournament site and the USTA issued a statement to clarify the situation. It read:

“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.”

Losing prize money and picking up a hefty fine does not matter to Djokovic – he is a multi-millionaire. But as he chases after Roger Federer’s record of weeks at No.1 and the Swiss’s record of grand slam titles, what concerns him is that he has come to New York, gone through the rigmarole of living in the bio-bubble and come away with absolutely nothing, not so much as a single ranking point.

This was the first major championship he had ever played where Federer and Rafa Nadal were not present; this was success in the form of an 18th grand slam trophy waiting for him on a plate. And then he let his temper get the better of him.

No one was surprised when the news came through at 10.34pm to say that Djokovic had left the building. He gave no press conference, he offered no statement, no posted apology. He had just disappeared. His hope of finishing this curtailed season unbeaten had been undone by a fit of pique and he did not wish to discuss it.

For a man who wants to reinvent the tennis wheel, who wants to lead his colleagues in his new Professional Tennis Players Association, this was not a good look.

Tim Henman, watching on from the Amazon Prime studios back in the UK, found it all very familiar. He was defaulted from Wimbledon for doing much the same thing – he walloped a ball girl in the ear with a misplaced ball – back in 1995. He was 20 at the time and still quite wet behind the ears but the next day he turned up at the All England Club for photo ops with the ball girl and offered grovelling apologies. When, celebrating his 46th birthday on Sunday, he watched Djokovic fell a line judge, he called it instantly: default. No doubt about it.

As for Carreno Busta, it was all a bit of a whirlwind. He had almost lost the first set at 4-5 down while facing three break points. He had seen Djokovic call the trainer after landing awkwardly on his left shoulder with the Serb serving at 5-5, 0-30. And then he had broken the Djokovic serve to lead 6-5. That is when the world No.1 smacked the ball without looking and hit the line judge and the negotiations began between Djokovic and Friemel.

“I was looking to my coach, celebrating the break,” Carreno Busta said. “And when I turn back, I just watch the line umpire on the floor.

“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. I just tried to be calm, because I don’t know what is going to happen, you know, if we can continue or if we finish the match. Finally, we finish, and I continue really in shock.

“Novak is a great player, he’s a great person. I think that he don’t want to do this, of course.

“Well, just bad luck to the line umpire. I’m so sorry about that, because it’s not the way that I want to be in quarterfinals. I was playing my match. I was playing really good, and I was enjoying the match.”

It was an inglorious end to an utterly lousy summer for Djokovic. After the debacle of his Adria Tour, the fall out from launching his new players’ association, he had now been officially anointed as the villain of the story – no world No.1 had ever been defaulted from a grand slam tournament before.

But what will hurt him more than anything else is that in the absence of Federer and Nadal, the US Open will crown its champion next Sunday – and it won’t be him.