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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 6, 2020


World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is defaulted from the US Open fourth round after striking a lineswoman in the throat with a stray ball.

Photo credit: Getty

Novak Djokovic hit himself out of the US Open in a shocking default.

Trailing 5-6 in the opening set, Djokovic turned and hit a ball in frustration at the back wall after dropping serve. The shot inadvertently struck a lineswoman in the throat immediately knocking her to the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

McEnroe: Novak Will Be Bad Guy Rest of His Career

More: Mladenovic, Babos Withdrawn From US Open

Tournament referee Soeren Friemel was called out onto court and after about a 10-minute discussion, he defaulted Djokovic sending 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta into his second Flushing Meadows quarterfinal in the last four years.

The top-seeded Djokovic will forfeit ranking points and the $250,000 prize money he earned reaching the fourth round and incurs a $10,000 fine as well.

"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 US Open announced in a statement. "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 the respect to the incident."

A couple of hours after his disqualification, Djokovic issued an apology to the lineswoman and the tournament on Instagram saying the entire episode left him feeling "really sad and empty."

"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," Djokovic said. "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.

"I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy. 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. I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior."

Tournament referee Friemel told ESPN’s James Blake he did not see the video of the incident before walking out on the court to rule, but has seen the video since and it confirmed he made the correct call. Friemel also reports the lineswoman is back at her hotel resting and will be okay.

"I think I’m very pleased with the situation meaning that I got the facts right," Friemel told ESPN.  "This is the key element when you are coming on court. You need to talk to chair umpire and Grand Slam supervisor because you want to get it right, obviously.

"Now I had a chance to look at video and the facts clearly state that according to the rules he had to be defaulted. The line umpire was clearly hurt. He hit the ball recklessly angrily and that was the right decision."

Just when you think this wild, Coronavirus-marred 2020 season cannot get any crazier, Djokovic's default is a seismic shock to the sport.

It is Djokovic's second straight US Open fourth-round exit
he retired from his 2019 round of 16 match against Stan Wawrinka—and makes this unpredictable US Open wide open.

While there was no malice in Djokovic's strike
—he wasn't even looking at the wall when he hit the ballhe did himself no favors blowing off the mandatory post-match press conference rather than explaining his side of the story leaving in his wake a chasm of controversy and wide-open draw. 

Obviously, it's a devastating departure for Djokovic and a massive loss for the Open. At the same time, the man who helped launched the new Professional Tennis Players Association union has spent recent weeks preaching about unity and leadership
 yet went mute and MIA today after creating controversy. If you're going to talk the talk on leadership, you must walk the walk in tough times too.

It is an absolutely stunning exit for the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who carried a 26-0 record on court and was the only former major champion standing in the men's draw.

The Big 3 of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had combined to collect the last 13 Grand Slam championships. Djokovic's default means we will see a maiden major champion at this wild and crazy US Open.

Despite the fact Djokovic clearly did not intend to hit anyone looked mortified when he saw the lineswoman fall to the court, the referee made the right call acting according to the letter of the law as stated by the rules. Actions have consequences and Djokovic's action, although unintentional, resulted in his default that is a seismic shock to this US Open.

Djokovic's default comes 24 hours after the top-seeded women's doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos were withdrawn from the event after Nassau County health department officials ruled Mladenovic could not travel to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center because she had interaction with Benoit Paire, who tested positive for Coronavirus.

A couple of hours after his default, Djokovic took to Instagram to take responsibility and apologize.


This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. 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. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy. 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. I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry. Cela ova situacija me čini zaista tužnim i praznim. Proverio sam kako se oseća linijski sudija, i prema informacijama koje sam dobio, oseća se dobro, hvala Bogu. Njeno ime ne mogu da otkrijem zbog očuvanja njene privatnosti. Jako mi je žao što sam joj naneo takav stres. Nije bilo namerno. Bilo je pogrešno. Želim da ovo neprijatno iskustvo, diskvalifikaciju sa turnira, pretvorim u važnu životnu lekciju, kako bih nastavio da rastem i razvijam se kao čovek, ali i teniser. Izvinjavam se organizatorima US Opena. Veoma sam zahvalan svom timu i porodici što mi pružaju snažnu podršku, kao i mojim navijačima jer su uvek uz mene. Hvala vam i žao mi je. Bio je ovo težak dan za sve.

A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on

The top seed's tournament unraveled abruptly in a one-game implosion. 

Down love-30 in the 11th game, Djokovic was dancing behind the baseline when he tumbled to the court and seemed to jam his left shoulder as he landed with much of his weight on his left hand while his Head racquet went flying.

Clutching at his left shoulder, Djokovic stared down at the court in pain for a moment then slowly climbed off the court and walked to the sidelines calling for the trainer.

After the trainer applied some deep muscle massage to his left shoulder, Djokovic returned to court and netted a one-handed drop shot that failed to clear the tape to fall into a triple break point hole.

Attempting another drop shot, Djokovic got burned as Carreno Busta ran it down and snapped off a winner.

A frustrated Djokovic turned, hit the spare ball that had been in his pocket toward the back wall but unintentionally struck the lineswoman near the throat. She went down immediately, was moaning in pain and stayed on the ground for a few moments.

A mortified Djokovic held his hand up and ran over to attend to the fallen lineswoman, who was eventually helped to her feet and left the court without assistance.

Meanwhile, coach Goran Ivanisevic, watching the proceedings from the stands, slumped back in his seat and covered his eyes with his hands in a physical reaction as if sensing his charge was done.

The tournament referee came out on court and while Djokovic pled his case Carreno Busta watched it all go down from his court-side seat.

"She doesn't have to go to the hospital or anything... You gotta do what you gotta do," Djokovic told the referee. "Whatever call you make it’s tough I understand that."

Ultimately, the referee, who noted the lineswoman had to be pulled from the officials rotation because of the strike, pulled the plug bringing a shocking conclusion to the tournament overwhelming favorite. 

Moments before his US Open went off the rails, Djokovic held triple break point on Carreno Busta's serve and was one point away from breaking to serve for a one-set lead. 

Turning his hips and shoulders into his strokes, Djokovic was generating more juice on his drives earning triple-set point on the Spaniard’s serve.

Rising to the challenge, Carreno Busta saved the first with a flat forehand down the line, the second in a duel of drop shots and third with a deft drop shot winner that left the frustrated Serbian slamming the ball off the signage on the side wall.

At that moment no linespeople were near the side wall, but that angry strike foreshadowed Djokovic's fatal flick that knocked the lineswoman down and ultimately knocked him out of the US Open. Carreno Busta later said he believed it was an unintentional strike.

"No, of course I think this was not intentional," Carreno Busta said later. "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."

A stubborn Carreno Busta saved all three set points in a five-point storm to level, 5-all. Moments later the 2017 semifinalist watched Djokovic's default and advanced to a quarterfinal against either seventh-seeded David Goffin or 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov.


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