Number 1 tennis seed Novak Djokovic’s US Open run was brought to an end on Monday after he was disqualified for inadvertently striking a line judge in the throat with a ball.
The dramatic moment came when the overwhelming title favourite reacted angrily to going 5-6 down to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in the first set of their fourth-round encounter at an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
What would have been an innocuous incident had the ball flown a foot either side of the official instead left her lying on the ground, clutching her throat and screaming in pain.
There was no question that Djokovic hit her inadvertently, and he quickly rushed to apologise, but it was a clear breach of Grand Slam rules forbidding the physical abuse of anyone within the tournament precincts.
Tournament referee Soeren Friemel came out and spoke to chair umpire Aurelie Tourte and Andreas Egli, the Grand Slam supervisor, before a long chat with the three-times U.S. Open champion.
Djokovic, who was clearly making the point that he had not intended to hit the official, was overheard saying “she doesn’t have to go to hospital for this” but after 12 minutes of pleading his case his fate was sealed.
“I don’t think that there was any chance of any opportunity or any other decision than defaulting Novak,” Friemel later told reporters.
“The facts were so clear and so obvious … (the line judge) was clearly hurt and Novak was angry, he hit the ball recklessly, angrily back.”
A tournament spokesman told Reuters the line judge appeared to be okay and was “not brought off-site”. Her identity is not known. Djokovic eventually walked over to shake hands with a stunned Carreno Busta and trudged off the court before leaving the grounds without attending a press conference.
The 33-year-old Serbian later posted an apology on Instagram.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he wrote. “I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong.
“I apologise to the (U.S. Open) and everyone associated for my behaviour.”